WATERBURY – When Latonya Inman opened the front door of her Waterbury home Thursday morning to drive to work, she was met with an empty space where her 2017 Kia Soul was supposed to be.
She said she called the police and reported the car stolen. About two hours later, police told Inman they had seen her car parked on a street about 10 minutes away. But by the time officers escorted Inman to the location, she found the back windows of her vehicle had been busted out.
Although her car was recovered, Inman said she had to make an insurance copayment for the damages, pay $100 for a rental car and miss a day of work. Since the incident, she has installed a steering wheel lock and plans to add cameras outside her home to prevent future auto thefts.
“It’s so time-consuming, inconvenient and inconsiderate of these freaking knuckleheads. I am so angry. I believe parents ought to be held accountable,” she said.
Inman is not alone in her frustration.
Car thefts in Waterbury have experienced a significant surge, according to police, with 322 stolen cars reported between January and May of this year compared to 204 in the same period last year – a 57 percent increase. Officers have arrested more than twice the number of juveniles than adults for auto thefts this year. Half of these juvenile arrests involve repeat offenders, indicating an alarming trend, police said.
Most juveniles who commit car thefts in Waterbury are one-time offenders, local police told CT Examiner, but the majority of the city’s car thefts are repeatedly done by a group of about 15 to 20 juveniles. Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo said he believes there is a lack of engagement between family members and the juveniles who steal cars.
“They don’t appear to have a lot of support in their family. They don’t really seem to have an interest in support from the community, and they continuously engage in this type of dangerous behavior,” he said.
Local police have been struggling since 2017 with juvenile auto theft. They have been working with the juvenile prosecutor and probation officials, and created a crisis intervention team with licensed behavioral specialists for children, mentorship programs and summer youth employment programs, Spagnolo said.
“There’s a lot that we offer them. But, the problem in juvenile court is… my understanding is that the judge doesn’t have a lot of authority to mete out a requirement of behavioral health services or some other kind of services until the case is adjudicated. We can ask them to come, but very few would take advantage of it,” he explained.
Spagnolo said more resources need to be invested in these juveniles rather than locking them up.
“My suggestion would be to hold this child and have this child evaluated, and maybe even have their family evaluated to find out what type of services or needs the state, a municipality, or the government in general could provide to change the course of direction,” Spagnolo said.
Spagnolo added these juveniles tend to commit more violent crimes or the same crimes as adults, and the system allows them to be held when they are older.
“At some point when you have a child that steals a car five, six, up to 10 times, is brought to juvenile court … is released back to his family, and that same night steals a car again, and the same police department picks them up and brings them back – and that happens two or three times in a row – there should be a red flag that goes off, Spagnolo said. “There should be a bell that goes off in everyone’s head that says something is wrong and putting this child back into the same exact environment that you took the child from is not the answer.”
Although Spagnolo believes the courts should release a child who has committed car theft, he also thinks there should be substantial supervision of the child’s life circumstances.
Inman shared a similar view.
“The parents ought to be held accountable because enough is enough. It’s getting to be way too much,” she said. “If that were the case, the parents would be engaged in their children’s lives and directing them in becoming better versions of themselves.”
Spagnolo described these crimes as a crime of opportunity.
“We don’t live in a society currently that allows for us to be laissez-faire with our property. You need to take some steps to protect your property, and that means locking up your valuables, not allowing your car to run unattended,” he said.