WESTFIELD – Since the spring, thieves and joy-riders, believed to be from the Hartford, Conn., area, have sporadically visited affluent city neighborhoods at night to steal from unlocked vehicles and, in many cases, to steal the cars.
Police Det. Lt. Stephen Dickinson said in a recent interview that he and his team have been investigating the problem since it started in March.
He explained that the modus operandi of the criminals is to come to the city late at night on weekends, usually to the Ridgecrest neighborhoods, and a driver will drop off a confederate. That person will then walk up driveways and try the door handles of parked cars. When an unlocked car is found, the intruder will enter the car to steal whatever is found.
Dickinson said that at least 33 unlocked cars (not all the break-ins have been reported) have been entered and property has been stolen including items which prudent owners do not usually leave in their unlocked vehicles such as wallets, purses and ammunition.
Sometimes, the car is also stolen.
Dickinson explained, with late model cars, the thieves do not even have to look for keys to start the cars. Surprisingly often, a car will start when the ‘Start’ button is pushed because the key fob is somewhere in the car and the thief can simply drive it away.
All 10 cars stolen this summer which meet this profile have subsequently been recovered, parked within a five to 10 mile radius in the Hartford, Conn., area.
“We’re processing every piece of evidence left behind” he said and are getting results. Evidence, especially fingerprints, has been gathered from cars recovered “a block or two from the suspects’ homes” and on stolen property which has been recovered.
He said charges are pending against two identified suspects and detectives are also building cases against at least three other suspects.
“It’s a lengthy process,” he said, “it’s time consuming” for the crime lab to process the evidence collected. “It’s not like CSI on TV where they pop in something and it pops up a fingerprint” he said.
Dickinson said that the thieves’ depredations have not been limited to Westfield and their visits to the city have been sporadic.
There is evidence, for example, that they were active in Westfield on all five weekends in August but they have skipped many other weekends, perhaps because they were visiting other communities. “They’ve hit other areas hard,” Dickinson said, adding, “they’ve been all over the place” including Southampton, Southwick, Worthington and many Connecticut communities.
Although police are making progress on the case, Dickinson points out that simple precautions could have prevented the crimes.
“If people did lock their cars, if they did keep their keys in the house, this wouldn’t be happening” he said.