Stolen vehicles recovered in Groton highlight larger summer trend

Last week, a woman lost both of her legs in Hartford because teenagers driving a stolen vehicle lost control of it and crashed into her.

On Sunday and again on Monday, Groton Town police made arrests after finding people driving vehicles they allegedly had swiped from New London and Hartford, respectively.

And in Old Saybrook Thursday morning, officers were collecting evidence from several cars that may have been burglarized. Earlier, they had caught and arrested the three suspects — in a stolen vehicle.

It’s all par for the course in July, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has deemed National Vehicle Theft Protection Month.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which pulls its numbers from a branch of the FBI, July and August saw the highest rates of vehicle theft in 2015, with more than 2,200 instances per day. That’s compared to daily averages closer to 1,800 in the months of February and March.

It’s not hard to explain the summertime jump. Garage doors are open. Windows are down. Schools are out. And more people are on the road.

According to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, U.S. citizens drive markedly more in the summer months: 30.6 miles a day from July through September compared to 25.7 from January through March.

“More people are outside during the summer — including would-be thieves who may be in school or otherwise engaged indoors during the winter,” said Amy Parmenter, spokeswoman for AAA in Greater Hartford.

She urged drivers to stop leaving their keys in their unlocked cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates about half of thefts happen because of driver error, which includes leaving one’s keys in the car.

Groton Town police Chief Louis J. Fusaro Jr. said officers in general are used to seeing more auto thefts in the summer, but to recover two stolen vehicles back-to-back is unusual for his department.

“It’s definitely a spike,” Fusaro said. “Definitely people should be a little cautious and use better judgment when it comes to leaving their vehicles unattended or leaving valuables in their vehicles.”

Running inside your house for a minute? Don’t leave your doors open. Making a quick stop at the grocery store? Turn your car off. Have valuables in your vehicle? Don’t leave them in plain sight.

“Anything that’s exposed creates a greater interest for someone considering stealing a car or committing a larceny,” Fusaro said.

National and statewide data show vehicle theft has long been trending down, although there was a slight uptick from 2014 to 2015. In Connecticut, there were 6,427 such offenses in 2015.

According to Groton Town Deputy Chief Paul Gately, the agency has recovered six stolen vehicles so far this year.

"It's a bit of an anomaly," Gately said of this week's recoveries and subsequent arrests. "We don't get too many stolen vehicles — especially occupied."

Fusaro pointed out that car theft is often associated with other crimes. Some perpetrators, for example, first break into and steal from a house before taking the vehicle. Others plan to sell the car to fuel a drug habit. On Monday, three of the four people arrested in Groton also were hit with drug-related charges.

Fusaro credited patrol officers in both cases with “good police work” for recognizing vehicles that appeared to be out of place.

“Certainly we like to see that from our officers when they’re out on patrol ... being alert and conscious of their surroundings, seeing stuff that piques their suspicion as police officers and looking into it,” he said. “That’s good policing. That’s what I expect from my officers and what the public should expect from us.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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