Yesterday’s daylight carjacking in the garage of a Bayberry Lane home surprised and shook many Westporters.
One man was not surprised: Police Chief Foti Koskinas.
With the rise in car thefts and break-ins around town — always of unlocked vehicles — he’s feared an escalation like this was coming.
He’s also frustrated. He followed the stolen vehicle from I-95 exit 19 to Route 8 exit 27, where he had to stop.
Two carjackers surround the driver of an Aston Martin in his Bayberry Lane garage yesterday.
The carjacking — with an assault on the driver, in his vehicle in his own garage — is different from the “property crimes” of break-ins and thefts.
Early this morning — after being up all night — Koskinas discussed both with “06880.”
“There is a level of frustration, as a department,” the chief said. “There’s not much we can do initially,” when officers respond to a break-in or theft.
“We do all the follow-up. We try to get DNA, and lift fingerprints. We have an officer on an Auto Theft Task Force with area towns. They’ve recovered cars, and guns.”
But the problem starts with cars that are left unlocked in driveways, or open garages — often with the keys, fobs and/or valuables in plain sight.
None of the car thefts have involved jump starts or punched ignitions, Koskinas said.
The carjacking was different. Two men followed the victim — driving an Aston Martin — home, then assaulted him and stole his car.
They followed him in 2 vehicles that they had stolen previously.
When Koskinas saw the Aston Martin, he followed it on and off the highway.
The drivers “were taunting me — baiting me,” Koskinas said. “They were not afraid.” Eventually — due to heavy traffic, and the potential for an accident — the chief had to back off.
Westport Police Chief Fotios Koskinas (Photo/Dan Woog)
Those were legitimate concerns after a carjacking. Connecticut laws on pursuit following a property theft — an unlocked car, for example — are even more restrictive.
“It makes sense. You don’t want to injure or kill someone — the car thief or anyone else — after a property crime.”
But to not give officers the latitude to make that decision in the middle of the night, when there is very light traffic, for example, is frustrating.
So is the knowledge that catching car thieves — many of whom are juveniles — is almost fruitless.
The official age of “juveniles” was raised years ago, from 16 to 18. Juveniles caught now are released within hours, Koskinas said — even if they have multiple charges already pending. It’s almost like fishermen’s “catch and release.”
“The court system is overwhelmed,” Koskinas said. “They’re still backlogged with pre-COVID cases. And young people know what the police can and can’t do.”
He noted that the consequences for yesterday’s crime — if the carjackers are caught — are much more serious than a simple car theft.
“I try not to do politics,” Koskinas said. “But every time I hear a politician touting that jails are empty and crime is down — well, it’s not true. The hands of the police are tied.
“People talk about holding police accountable for their actions. They should. In Westport, we hold ourselves to the highest standard. But society has to be held accountable too. There’s a balance.
“Its extremely frustrating,” Koskinas continued. “These guys know if they come to Westport, they’ll be successful. So they come, the word gets out, and they come back and bring others. They have a high rate of success here, stealing very nice cars.”
Westport police recover almost 100% of cars — often with extensive damage. The stolen cars don’t go to chop shops, or overseas, the chief says.
They’re used to commit other crimes: robberies, street crimes, gang-related shootings in other cities.
Koskinas has increased patrols at times when crimes happen. He’ll continue to do so.
Koskinas is heartened that every town official — from “the selectwoman’s office to the newest RTM member” — has supported his requests. “My hands have never been tied,” he said.
But, he noted, “we have 10,000 or 11,000 homes in town. Yesterday, 2 people followed someone home. Having another 10 officers might have helped after this happened, but it wouldn’t have stopped it before.”
So what can Westporters do? Be very careful of your surroundings. Call the police — any time — when something looks or feels suspicious.
And park your cars in locked garages. If they must be outdoors, put them in well-lit areas, with keys, fobs and all valuables safely inside your home.
Thieves go where they’ll be most successful. The harder we make it for them in Westport, the less chance they’ll keep coming back.