Increase in Connecticut Car Theft Crimes Creates Outcry, New Task Force

Car Thief Using a Screwdriver to Brake into a Car

There has been a dramatic increase in Connecticut car thefts, and arrests, in 2020. Lawmakers and researchers debate the causes of these increases. However, for those charged with auto theft, the biggest question is not how many crimes occurred, but what the consequences will be.

FBI Records Show 40% Increase in CT Car Thefts

In September 2021, the FBI released its yearly Uniform Crime Report. That report, based on data from law enforcement agencies, shows data and trends for a variety crimes at the national and state level. This year, the biggest shift was in vehicle theft. The FBI tracked a 40% increase in cases – from 168 per 100,000 people in 2019 and to 237 per 100,000 people in 2020. However, 2019 had represented a 35 year low for the state. Also, even that sharp rise didn’t bring Connecticut up to the national average of 246 vehicle thefts per 100,000 people.

Lawmakers Blame Juvenile Law Reforms After Fatal Crash

The dramatic increase added fuel to a fire already burning to change the way juvenile crime is handled in the state. Over the summer, a deadly crash in New Britain sparked a debate about whether the recent juvenile justice reforms had backfired. Conservative lawmakers have been using that crash, and the FBI’s statistics, to justify demands for tougher penalties for juvenile offenders.

Researchers Say Pandemic is to Blame for Automobile Theft, Homicide Rates Increasing

However, researchers say juvenile crime probably wasn’t to blame for the spike in both car thefts and homicide rates. They say juvenile laws can’t justify the increases since car thefts are up across the country. Also, it is hard to blame the 40% increase on juveniles – as opposed to adult criminals – because so few juveniles had been arrested.

Instead, researchers are blaming the pandemic. Ken Barone, project manager at Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy told NPR:

“There's really no correlation between an increase in juvenile crime or auto thefts and reforms being made to the juvenile justice system. . . . But there is a direct correlation between an increase in juvenile crime and an increase, particularly in auto thefts, as it correlates with the pandemic.”

Property crimes, like vehicle theft, historically rise in times of economic instability, like the one caused by pandemic shutdowns. At the same time, homicides and domestic violence may have increased due to pandemic-related factors.

Greater Hartford Regional Auto Theft Task Force Spurs Dozens of Arrests

On October 3, 2021, a dozen local police departments responded to demands to reduce car thefts by creating the Greater Hartford Regional Auto Theft Task Force. In the task force’s first two months of operation, it recovered 72 stolen cars and arrested 45 people. In his statement on the success of the task force, Captain Jeff Rousseau echoed assumptions that the problem lay with the state’s juveniles:

“Research reveals alarming trends with these auto theft crimes. Often times individuals are stealing cars from towns from within the region and bringing the cars back to Hartford to commit violent crimes. Even more cause for concern is a lot of these individuals are juveniles, that have displayed a reckless disregard for the citizens living within our communities.

“Bringing regional resources together to work shoulder to shoulder increases the likelihood of solving these crimes. It’s important to identify the perpetrators quickly and take them off the streets before they can commit additional crimes.”

Punishment for Juvenile and Adult Car Theft Charges

The punishment for car theft depends on the value of the vehicle. Theft of a motor vehicle worth up to $10,000 is a class D felony. This charge has a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. More valuable vehicles will result in a class C felony, which carries a penalty of 1 to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In addition, joyriding – the use of a motor vehicle without the owner’s permission – is a class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a class D felony for second or subsequent offenses. A class A misdemeanor can result in up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Since 2017, criminal charges against children under age 18 have generally been handled by the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters. There, juvenile delinquency is addressed through more forgiving punishments that are centered on restorative justice and rehabilitation. As a result, most juveniles are not placed in a juvenile detention center. To some lawmakers, that means these juvenile offenders are back on the streets and able to steal more cars or commit other criminal offenses.

Get Help Defending Against Car Theft Charges

Whether you are an adult or a juvenile, the consequences of car theft charges can be life-changing. A felony conviction can follow you to college and beyond, affecting every aspect of your life. But an arrest isn’t the same thing as a conviction. You have the right to defend against auto theft charges filed against you. At the Lebedevitch Law Firm in Fairfield, Connecticut, we can help you avoid a criminal conviction and protect your record. If you are facing criminal charges we will review your case, identify potential defenses, and fight for your freedom. Don’t allow your future to be swept up in fear over a statistic. Contact us for a free consultation today.

Categories: Criminal Defense, Theft