Car thefts, burglaries are rising in these CT towns. Police say there's an easy fix.

A New Canaan resident walked out to their driveway last week and discovered a Land Rover had been stolen. Inside the vehicle was a bevy of valuables, including the owner’s wallet, bag, credit cards, license and laptop. Everything was taken. The SUV was later found in Bridgeport — minus many of the owner’s valuables.

New Canaan Police Chief Leon Krolikowski says this has become a common occurrence in town and around Fairfield County in recent years.

“They are increasing again this year,” Krolikowski said. “It is very unusual for us to see this many car thefts, but now we are on track to see unprecedented numbers. We had 30 last year and are on track for more this year if the trend continues.”

The most recent incident on May 26 marks 18 stolen vehicles in New Canaan in 2021. New Canaan police recorded a total of 27 stolen vehicles in 2020.

Wilton Police Capt. Robert Cipolla said this has been a trend his department has seen increase since 2016.

“We do see it every year, and this year we have seen an increase in daytime entries into vehicles,” Cipolla said. “Over the past few years, the majority though, have been of the overnight entry into motor vehicles or thefts from them in residential properties or condo complex parking lots. In 100 percent of those types (of cases), the car is unlocked.”

In Wilton, the numbers of stolen vehicles rose to nine in 2020 from seven the previous year. So far in 2021, there have been six stolen cars reported.

This issue of theft has persisted beyond the borders of New Canaan and Wilton, though.

“This has happened all across Fairfield County, and even the state,” Krolikowski said.

Perhaps the most stark jump year-over-year has been in Ridgefield, where 2019 only saw three stolen vehicles. In 2020, that number jumped to 30 and the department has seen eight so far this year.

In Darien, 48 vehicles were reported stolen in 2020. That was up from 31 in 2019. Larcenies from motor vehicles in the town nearly doubled from 109 to 201 over the same period.

“This is really one of the most preventable crimes,” Krolikowski explained before pleading with county residents. “Don’t leave your keys in your cars. It is highly unlikely that someone will break into it and take it otherwise.”

In many instances, Krolikowski said residents have said they left their keys in some compartment of the vehicle in the driveway, making it easier for thieves to take the car.

“I think it is more a trend with technology, with key fobs and keyless entry,” the police chief said. “Some people might forget, it could be a convenience issue, but it is across the board. It is not just the older population.”

Cipolla said “anecdotally, we have seen” a lot of cases in Wilton include key fob technology where offenders simply enter an unlocked vehicle and “put their foot on the break and hit the button” for the car to start. At that point, he said, the thief understands the keys are somewhere in the vehicle, and they can leave the scene.

Cipolla said these vehicles are often recovered after being used in another crime.

“We can see evidence that they were used in crimes of violence, whether that be bullet holes or casings found,” Cipolla said. “These stolen vehicles give the offender a cloak of anonymity.”

Krolikowski said “maybe the most concerning thing” for his department is that some residents have had their cars stolen more than once.

The chief has seen many of the cars recovered in Bridgeport, Waterbury and Hartford. Cipolla said that many of Wilton’s stolen vehicles are also found in Bridgeport and Waterbury, but more often around the New Haven area than near Hartford. Krolikowski said that he has even seen criminals come to the area from out of state, including a Florida organized crime ring that he refers to as the “Felony Lane Gang.”

In addition to the thefts, larcenies from vehicles have persisted as well.

Cipolla said the number of larceny incidents in town do not tell the whole story.

“A theft from a motor vehicle incident may involve a crime spree resulting in multiple victims related to one incident,” Cipolla said. In the report, Wilton included numbers of “unique victims” in each crime.

In 2019, there were 33 larcenies from vehicles in Wilton, with 42 unique victims. In 2020, that number rose to 35 larcenies from vehicles with 58 unique victims. This year, Cipolla said Wilton has seen 21 instances of larcenies from vehicles with 29 unique victims.

Ridgefield’s larcenies also jumped in 2020 with 50 incidents after recording 30 the previous year. There have been nine incidents so far in 2021.

New Canaan has seen 16 larcenies from vehicles this year after a jump to 48 in 2020 from 31 in 2019.

The biggest concern for police departments in any kind of theft involving a vehicle is stealing a person’s identity.

“Shortly thereafter breaking in and getting an identification, criminals can impersonate them and aim to take money from their bank accounts,” Krolikowski explained.

Cipolla said that crimes of identification theft, including attempting to make purchases with a stolen credit card are a focus of his department. “That is obviously something we want to curtail,” he said.

The New Canaan chief said there are ways for residents to prevent these crimes.

“Lock your car doors, take your keys inside and do not leave valuables in your car,” the chief pleaded. “Get a good camera system with good quality to capture the license plates of (criminals) coming into town.”