WESTERLY — Officers are continuing to follow leads in the ongoing theft of cars around the region, and Lacey said the cases are continuing to pile up.
Westerly police said Tuesday that four additional cars were reported stolen early Saturday morning, and the town has now had 15 vehicles stolen since June 13. During that time, the department has also handled 33 reports of other items taken from a vehicle, and Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said there is one common aspect to every case: the cars were left unlocked.
"There has been a considerable rise in these types of cases across the region, and in every case the cars that were taken were left unlocked," Lacey said. "If there's one message we wish the public would take, it's to secure your belongings and lock up your car."
Lacey said officers were notified of the latest incidents Saturday morning after four cars were taken, likely between 2 and 3 a.m., from neighborhoods off Shore Road in the Weekapaug section of Westerly. He said two of the cars were later located a short distance from where nicer cars were taken.
All of the victims' cars had keys inside at the time of the thefts, the police said.
The police said an investigation determined that the two cars recovered locally were abandoned after the thieves located "nicer cars" and took those instead. A 2016 Porsche was later found crashed into a utility pole in Hartford, he said, and a 2019 Honda was found undamaged and abandoned in Colchester, Conn.
Lacey said all of the Westerly incidents have contained the same M.O., including thieves using a stolen credit card at a Dunn's Corners gas station to fill up the stolen cars before leaving town. Police said they have surveillance footage of transactions following incidents in both September and October.
"We have surveillance that shows these guys using a pattern of behavior known as 'towning,'" Lacey said. "It is part of a growing pattern of criminal behavior seen in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts now that seems to be connected to a group (of participants) in the greater Hartford area."
Lacey said the incidents likely coincide with similar issues seen in nearby towns, including Stonington and Hopkinton. 'Towning' is the act of taking a car (usually stolen) and filling it with three or four people before going to towns with well-to-do neighborhoods, he said.
The perpetrators then look for unlocked cars, taking items of value — and even the car, if the keys are left with it. They will often search until all those involved are driving away with a stolen car.
Lacey said the department is continuing to focus resources toward these cases, but asked local residents to take a moment and make sure they aren't leaving themselves open to becoming a victim.
"We are increasing patrols to try to combat this and we are once again reminding all residents and visitors to lock their vehicles, and to not leave valuables or keys inside," the department said in a message to residents shared to Facebook. "We also are encouraging residents to be observant and report any suspicious activity, vehicles, or persons to the police immediately."