NEWINGTON – The issue of vehicle break-ins and theft has only escalated and more blood will be shed if something doesn’t give, according to Police Chief Stephen Clark.
“As bad as it is right now I don’t even think we’ve reached the pinnacle yet,” Clark told the Town Council this week, adding, “This is beyond anything I’ve seen in my 34-year career in law enforcement.”
He first brought the issue to their table last November.
So far in 2021 there have been 265 car break-ins in town and a number of major incidents involving stolen vehicles. Many of those involve juvenile assailants.
Connecticut’s Police Pursuit Policy prevents officers from chasing down non-violent property criminals, but many times it’s after they drive away in a stolen vehicle that these individuals go on to commit violent crimes. This is just one facet of a multi-tiered problem impacting local communities.
Town officials from Newington and other suburbs surrounding Hartford wrote letters to the state legislature asking them for help. A bill passed, strengthening punishments for adults who coerce youth into committing these crimes, solidifying diversionary intervention programs for juveniles and shortening the length of time between an arrest and court hearing. However, the legislation did little to untie the hands of police officers, who are at the mercy of a broken judicial system and inefficient state policy.
“The only thing that’s changed is the problem has gotten more serious,” Clark said.
He has testified at the State Capitol along with other law enforcement officials, but to no avail.
Criminals’ latest target is catalytic converters, an anti-pollution device on a vehicle’s underside that contains valuable metals. These were recently picked off of the Dial-a-Ride buses at Newington Senior Center, the chief said.
He’s optimistic about a grant from the State Office of Policy Management, which has asked cities like New Britain and Hartford to cities to form regional task forces to address the increase in stolen vehicles and violent crimes.
“A task force is great; it brings everybody together on a regional level to combat that crime, but we need follow ups from the courts,” Clark said. “Otherwise what’s the point?”
What he means is that cases can’t continue to be delayed or thrown out and these criminals must be detained. Right now, even if they are caught, criminals too often walk away free only to commit worse crimes.
“The frustration level is through the roof with law enforcement; it’s through the roof with the public,” Clark said.
So much so – he pointed out - that the amount of pistol permits being issued in town has close to doubled already this year.
“The public is getting really concerned with their safety,” the chief said. “We typically do 140 to 150 pistol permits a year. Last year we did 200 and this year we’re were already up to 381. That gives you an indication of how people feel. It’s about personal safety and personal protection.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at email@example.com.