Auto Theft Audience Applauds Police, Demands Legislative Action

Westporters respect, admire, even love their police department.

Westporters hate laws that hamper law enforcement, attract criminals, and allow juvenile car thieves to return here again and again, sometimes even taunting officers.

Both themes emerged strongly last night, at a Town Hall forum with the Westport Police command staff, a representative of the Bridgeport Auto Theft Task Force, and 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker.

The event was scheduled in the wake of a Bayberry Lane carjacking Sunday afternoon. Two people were arrested within 72 hours — but the incident highlighted the ongoing problem of auto thefts.

The panel at last night’s forum (from right): 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Westport Police command staff David Farrell, Ryan Paulsson, David Wolf, Anthony Prezioso, Jillian Cabana, and Bridgeport Auto Theft Task force officer David Scinto. Not pictured: Eric Woods. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Police Chief Foti Koskinas and his top aides told the crowd of over 150 — including his counterparts from neighboring towns, and several TV crews — that several factors contribute to the thefts, which so far this year number 50.

One is the number of expensive cars owned by Westporters. Unfortunately — despite repeated warnings — residents continue to leave their cars unlocked, with the keys in the ignition or fobs inside, and valuables in plain sight.

One of the 2 BMWs driven by the pair to the Bayberry Lane carjacking had been stolen the night before on Church Lane. A resident left his car running, while he went into a restaurant to pick up a takeout order.

Residents can take precautions to make it harder for thieves to spot and steal vehicles, Koskinas and the officers noted.

But another element in the rash of thefts stems from laws passed several years ago by state legislators, severely limiting consequences for juvenile offenders. They know exactly how quickly they can be released; how hard it is for police to find out if they’ve committed prior crimes; how insignificantly they’ll be punished; even how constrained officers now are to give chase following a property crime.

(The carjacking was different– it was a crime against a person, as the driver was still in his vehicle. However, police must still consider many factors like traffic, weather and road conditions when giving chase — things that people in stolen cars never consider.)

Two people confront a car owner in his garage on Sunday.

Koskinas and his department received several strong rounds of applause, with most speakers beginning their remarks by thanking them for all they do despite the challenging circumstances.

But applause was even more sustained for speakers who demanded that the General Assembly revisit, and revise, legislation that hamstrings police at many levels of their work, particularly with juvenile offenders.

Police are also impacted by a “Police Accountability Law,” which make them more responsible for decisions made in the heat of the moment, including during a crime and while trying to apprehend a criminal.

“We are not inept,” Lieutenant Anthony Prezioso said. “But criminals know what we can and cannot do. They know what lines to cross, and what the system offers them at their age. They flaunt it.”

“This is not a partisan issue. It’s a safety issue,” said Westport Representative Town Meeting member Jimmy Izzo.

Though different municipalities have different priorities, Koskinas noted that car thefts have ramifications beyond taking property, and violating trust. Stolen cars are often used in other crimes, including burglaries, robberies, drug deals and drive-by shootings, in cities like Bridgeport, Waterbury, Hartford, even Newark.

The juvenile justice system works for “98 or 99%” of youths arrested, Prezioso said. He supports the move toward restorative justice — with accountability to parents and themselves — rather than punishment.

But for “the other 1 or 2%,” the loopholes are wide. And widely exploited.

Prezioso described the pandemic’s impact on juvenile justice. When courthouses were shut, it created a backlog of cases that continues today.

“The same 50 to 75 kids across the state are responsible for most of the crimes,” Deputy Chief Ryan Paulsson said.

“We know exactly who they are. But our hands are tied.”

When the public spoke, several asked about personal safety. Beyond the oft-repeated advice — lock cars always; keep them in a garage, with keys, fobs and valuables removed — officers recommended lights all around a property, including the back; being aware at all times; making sure vehicles have tracking devices, and calling police for any suspicious activity.

Knowing your neighbors, and working together, also helps.

Diane Lowman was among 2 dozen people who spoke at last night’s forum. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Yet the loudest applause came from residents who castigated politicians who promoted, and passed, legislation that has led to the current situation.

Koskinas agreed. While praising support he’s received from Westport officials, who provide him with the tools and personnel he needs — along with the regional cooperation of many law enforcement agencies — he made the “not great analogy” with the current debate on gun safety.

“Cars are bullets too,” he said. “An unsecured car can become as dangerous as an unsecured gun.”

In the aftermath of the carjacking, Koskinas said, all of Westport’s legislators reached out to him.

“Our state legislature needs input from police departments — and everyone here” to change the current laws, he said, to robust applause.

“I hope they’re as tenacious about this as they were when they passed the Police Accountability bill.”

(Hat tip: Bill Dedman) 

27 responses to “Auto Theft Audience Applauds Police, Demands Legislative Action

  1. Robert Colapietro

    The General Assembly at the LoB in Hartford will never consider changing what is in place. It simply does not support their “constituency”. OBTW, we are NOT their constituency. If we want change, we must remove the majority of the General Assembly members from office and replace them with individuals who have common sense, which is sorely lacking by the denizens of the LOB.

  2. I thought about getting an Aston Martin light blue metallic convertible once and then thought better. I drive the 2005 Acura TSX my mother left me when she passed 12 years ago. It’s better to have the character and humanity of great wealth than to be a hitter who flaunts their money.

  3. Unable to attend in person, I watched the panel discussion on Channel 79. I commend the Westport Police Command for explaining both the statistics and addressing the true cause of the recent spike in auto theft and carjackings.
    As, Robert Colapietro accurately stated…change must occur in Hartford and until legislators are honest enough to admit their mistakes in loosening the laws creating huge loopholes, we are going to be faced with a continuation of these sort of crimes. It is much tougher for law enforcement to deal with so many of these restrictions which have handcuffed them I so many ways. Westport Police as well as most law enforcement work extremely hard but they cannot do it alone. Voting these misguided legislators out of office is the only thing that will force change. Thank you to our Westport Police for the transparency and candid discussion last night.

  4. It is disheartening to see this town’s progressive values abandoned based on one isolated incident, which while unfortunate and upsetting, is statistically insignificant. In particular, I am stunned that anyone wants to encourage police to engage in dangerous, high-speed chases that put innocent people’s lives at risk in order to recover property. While I’m reassured that people who have the free time and inclination to attend this kind of event are not remotely representative of Westport as a whole, I’m certain this single incident will be leveraged for police budget increases and Republican talking points directed at Westport voters soon enough. I’d be just as vigilant of that as I would be of “suspicious activity,” coded language from the bad old days of policing for which some seem very nostalgic.

    • Street crime is up everywhere because of progressive policies that treat criminals like victims. Most moderates see that. Maybe progressives need to get out of their bubble, rather than accuse other voters of every sort of extremism.

    • I just heard a story that happened about a week ago in a neighboring town. Perps opened someone’s garage, stole a high end vehicle. They had apparently staked out the neighborhood a week earlier. Vehicle owner looked at vehicle location on his phone, called police, no action. Car turned up a couple days later riddled with bullet holes and was apparently used on a drive by shooting, where I guess the person(s) they were shooting at shot back.

    • “one isolated incident”? Are we reading the same news? The same 06880 blog?

    • Thank you, Richard, for both the voice of reason and the warning it harbors.

    • “Progressive” is great branding. But legislators more worried about the rights of criminals vs. law-abiding citizens should be held accountable at the ballot box. Kids manipulating the “progressive” agenda are far from dumb. Criminals know the law better than most citizens because it helps them make a risk-reward decision. NYC was unsafe until Bratton implemented Broken Windows and it WORKED VERY WELL! Compare that to today’s NYC. Prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let’s fix the laws so those who wish to steal & injure know that it won’t be worth it.

  5. Any car owner has the right to buy and drive what ever car they choose to. That is called personal choice and Freedom!
    If they choose to flaunt as some call it then they make and live with those challanges and not be constrained by others who choose not to!
    As to the ideas, thoughts and expressions of this public meeting on car jacking,

  6. I watched last night’s presentation online. I was very impressed with our police chief and all the officers who spoke.

    Clearly, the problem lies with revisions to legislation which now allows those under 18 to treat car theft as a game and taunt police who are constrained in their ability to react by legislatively imposed restrictions. This is a problem created by our state legislators and it is only they who can correct it.

    Perhaps our elected officials could provide some insight into what can be done to correct the mess this legislation has created.

    A youngster at the wheel of a stolen car playing games with police is a recipe for disaster. Our police chief said it well describing the stolen car in the hands of a youngster as a 5,000 pound bullet careening out-of-control. It is only a matter of time before a tragedy results from this out-of-control situation.

    Providing for and improving public safety should be the primary task for our legislators. It is clear that their actions have done just the opposite!

  7. Thank you Jen Tooker, Chief Koskinas and Westport Police Panel for a great presentation and community engagement last night.

    A lot of great questions and suggestions for residents of Westport to keep ourselves safer, and minimize car thefts. Invest in outdoor front and back lighting, lock doors in homes and cars etc; common sense suggestions that will go along way.

    Yes, our Legislators in Hartford need to revisit the loopholes in our judicial system that allow these repeat offenders to laugh in face of Law Enforcement because the “consequences” for these crimes are minimal.

    I do hope Hartford is listening and will take action. “Catch and Release” policing is not the answer.

    Thank you again Jen Tooker and Westport PD for your leadership, and proactive approach in keeping our community safe.

  8. So said Chief Foti Koskinas: “Unfortunately — despite repeated warnings — residents continue to leave their cars unlocked, with the keys in the ignition or fobs inside, and valuables in plain sight.”

    I do hope people will heed the warning that leaving your keys in your car, along with valuables and (really??) leaving the car running while you enter a business is just plain stupid.

  9. To Richard Johnson and his illusionary progressives.
    There is a pendulem shift in the publics acceptance of the so called progressive agenda and I for one am glad that Westport is starting to realize that a shift back to centrist American ideals are slowly making their way back to public reasoning.

  10. Unintended consequences.

    That is the take away from legislation that was rushed through to feel good.

    These standards and practices that were already in place by the POSTC Rules for over 25 years, we’re obviously not in place in other areas of the country.

    Unfortunately it was all done because of a poorly ran police department and poorly ran city with an officer who should not have been a cop.

    This legislation has now given cops another bad wrap…in the beginning, because not everyone understood why cop could not do anything.

    The criminals, minors (now 18 and under rather than 16 and under) are being exploited by older criminals to commit these crimes. They can only be withheld for six hours, IF caught. In most cases they cannot be unless pursued for violent felony.

    We heard from Officer Scinto, a Westport Police officer part of the Bridgeport Auto Theft Task Force tell you they will purposely drive down the wrong side of the road, antagonize officers to pursue by creating a dangerous environment to the public. Once the speed picks up as the assailant runs traffic stop lights and signs, cutting into traffic and out of lanes, police stop. But the assailant continues, with most of the time crashing…not being pursued.

    Legislators from other cities in Connecticut, NOT OURS who actually did try to make changes on the floor, are dictating how WE should handle crimes with residents from their cities among many other legislative initiatives to change small towns and communities. There are people on both sides of the aisle who do not favor this at all, and do try to make change.

    Unfortunately, we’re outnumbered and we are then targeted for other blanket divisive statements.

    Thieves food supply, is taking peoples cars. Cut of their food supply, it will reduce greatly.


    Lock your cars.
    Keep valuables out of sight
    Key inside away from car.
    Garage doors closed after entering, even backing in.
    Flood lights, motion sensors and cameras are great for capturing activity to report, even possibly deterring them.
    Use the PANIC button on your car to scare them away, it will also alert neighbors.
    Be aware of your surroundings, if you are being followed DO NOT GO HOME. Call 9-1-1 and give make and model and head towards the Police Department.
    Lock your homes! First and second floor windows.

    Officers are swamped with solving and chasing these criminals.

    Three more officers have been hired and finish the academy in October.

    A big thank you to Chief Foti Koskinas, First Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Second Selectwoman Andrea Moore, Deputy Chief Ryan Paulsson and David Farrell, Jillian Cabana, Anthony Prezioso, Dave Wolf and Dave Scinto.

    This transparent meeting and call to action can help restore powers to our excellent ran Police Departments to do more for you. Let’s do more for them, and be proactive and preventative.

  11. Dynamite presentation given by the PD and really nice to see the number of citizens who attended last night. Ct. State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg was seated right in front of me. I suggested to him that he might want to weigh in with his take on the current juvenile laws and he told me that he “had not been invited to speak”. Oh well.

    The comments by Mr. Richard Johnson are out of line and I wonder what he means by “the bad old days of policing”.

  12. This Forum appeared worthwhile. Yesterday, I spoke at length with a neighbor who was concerned that the Forum would trigger excessive anger and an unrealistic expectation as to solutions. It did not appear that those concerns were evident, with the one legislative issue arising being that of the law that limits police car chases for, I believe, safety reasons. I may have missed other legislative issues.

  13. We can rewrite laws, put up walls, buy more security equipment, and get “tough” in any way we want, but until we address the societal problems that encourage crime (vast income inequality, for one), it’s just an arms race.

    • yes. wages need to increase. the wealthy keep getting wealthier and the people that make westport and the country run have not received fair wage increases.

  14. I want thank our Westport pd and David scinto who has been working hard and our leader ship at our police dept . Please don’t keep your keys in your car and always call 911 if you fell your being fallowed if you live or work downtown our department can always send a officer if you fell your being fallowed thanks sal liccione

  15. When my car was stolen from my driveway at 3am on a weeknight in July THERE WAS NO TRAFFIC ON THE STREETS in my neighborhood . And as lawful, the police who were there in minutes tracking another stolen car used to drop off the kids who took my car WERE BOT ALLOWED TO CHASE/get them.

    So yes, some modification of the laws pertaining to when police may do their job has to be addressed. Soon.

  16. People should not leave keys in the car. That seems obvious and I don’t know why people do. Forget the rash of thefts, just seems weird. Be that as it may…

    We should not, however, have people in our driveways and trying door handles. Per chance that is too much a broken windows piece, but the behavior should be nipped on the criminal side that enables them to discover an unlocked car or one with keys in it.

    I’d like to understand the actions being done there to keep the 1-2% from even trying the handles. Anything?

  17. A few years ago someone tried to break into our rental house while my wife and children were sitting inside watching TV. Whoever it was tried several doors. My wife called 911 and the police were there almost instantly. Nothing but respect for our Westport police force. Thank you!

    Leaving aside keys, people should be “able” to leave valuables in their cars, just like they should be able to “leave” valuables in their homes (most of which have windows). A nice painting or vase or something in a house should not be looked at as an invitation to criminals to come in and take them. Same with a bag or laptop in a car. Unfortunately reality is different than utopia, but breaking into a car to steal something is the fault of the criminal, not the fault of the car owner. That extends to folks who can afford nice cars (I am not one of them). They should be able to own a nice car, and the folks who steal should be blamed, not the owners. It seems like from the comments here most people agree and that is refreshing and great to hear!

    While probably not 100% of police everywhere are angels, I feel pretty confident that close to 100% of criminals are criminals (and non-wealthy people do not enjoy crime any more than wealthy people do). Hoping we can find a good balance that protects hard working (or lucky) people from having their cars stolen, their houses robbed, or God forbid, being seriously injured or killed, while also acknowledging criminals are criminals, and letting our police officers do their jobs and continuing to show them the respect, that here in Westport, they have certainly earned.

  18. We don’t jail enough people in America. Oops, we lead by he world in incarcerating people.

What do you think? Please comment! Remember: All commenters must use full, real names!