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Gun thefts from cruisers have become more of a common problem, experts say

Although an officer adheres to procedure by securing their guns in the cruiser, grinders and “pneumatic hydraulic type tools” can bypass locks, a former detective said

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Victor Masters

Journal Inquirer
Manchester, Conn.

DERBY, Conn. — Experts say gun thefts from law enforcement vehicles, like the incident last month when an AR-15 was stolen from a Connecticut environmental police officer’s car, have become a more common problem.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said the weapon and ammunition were “properly locked” in the vehicle by a member of the agency’s Environmental Conservation police. However, that didn’t prevent the gun and ammo from being stolen during a series of smash-and-grab car burglaries in a residential area in Wallingford.

“It seems to be growing a little bit more,” said Felipe Rodriguez, a former New York Police Department detective sergeant who is now an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Rodriguez said thieves now have access to cutting tools like 18-volt grinders. So even though an officer adheres to procedure by securing their guns in the vehicle, grinders and “pneumatic hydraulic type tools are now able to defeat the locks,” Rodriguez said. More thieves are now armed with these tools to steal catalytic converters, which continues to be a growing trend.

In Florida, where Rodriguez also worked in law enforcement, the problem became so pronounced that deputies were no longer allowed to keep their rifles in their cars at night.

“These guys would just go in with grinders and you would see the whole interior of that patrol like light up,” he said, but in a matter of seconds, the thieves would cut through the gun locks “like butter.”

The thefts come as many officers now regularly carry long guns in their vehicles. That wasn’t always the case — “with police departments, shotguns in vehicles were usually at the sergeant level or above,” said Ken Gray, a retired FBI agent who now works as a senior lecturer in the department of criminal justice at the University of New Haven. But long guns are now more commonly used at the patrol level, he said.

That change was mirrored at the FBI as well.

“Long guns were often only put in vehicles when you knew you were going out on something big,” Gray said. “That has changed over the years where you see a lot more weapons being stored in vehicles so that you can have immediate access to those weapons.”

He said when guns are stored in vehicles there is always the possibility of them being stolen during a burglary.

“The knee-jerk reaction is to remove all long guns from cars, if the person is not going to be in the car at the time,” Gray said.

“That removes the possibility of responding to an incident as it is ongoing, requiring you to go back to your headquarters, to your office, to get a long gun to go back,” he added. “And that’s critical time.”

A “secured and locked” AR-15 and ammunition were taken from the environmental police vehicle last month, Wallingford Police Sgt. Stephen Jaques. He said Thursday that no arrests have been made and the weapon has not been recovered.

Gray said EnCon police, as the DEEP police force is sometimes known, will work with the local police to try and recover the weapon.

“In reality, this is just another stolen weapon,” he said.

Rodriguez said investigators working any longer term investigations will press confidential informants and police will use license plate recognition systems to know who’s “floating around in the area.” Many homes are also now equipped with Ring cameras or other CCTV systems that help with these investigations, he pointed out.

“They’re gonna brag about it, and that’s the good thing sometimes about criminals — they don’t know when to be quiet,” Rodriguez said. “So you just have to be able to listen; someone’s out there bragging about the fact that they were able to jack the cops up (for) an AR-15.”

The Wallingford case is the latest instance when an AR-15 was stolen from a police car in Connecticut.

In 2020, state police said an AR-15 along with ammunition, a gas mask, raid jacket and other items were stolen from a captain’s car in Danielson. The agency later reported the gun had been recovered.

In 2016, state police said a trooper’s car was also broken into while parked in a residential driveway in Milford, and an AR-15, body armor and other items were stolen. State police made several arrests in the case.

Gray said the incident in Wallingford will likely trigger a review of policies.

When the FBI encountered those situations, he said, there was always a policy to secure those weapons, such as making sure “there was additional locks on the vehicle and theft alarms to try to combat this type of theft.”

But, he added, it does still occur.

“It’s a trade off between the need to have long guns out of vehicles for the use of officers or agents, and the potential risk of those being stolen,” he said.


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