After a recent police arrest, Wooster Square residents believe its spike in car break-ins is over. But some question if the crime lull will last.
After a week-long spike in car break-ins in Wooster Square, long considered one of New Haven’s safest neighborhoods, the police have cracked down, increasing squad cars, foot patrols, and bicycles to the area. Police caught two suspects, and the break-ins have since lessened. But residents say they worry the Wooster area has not seen the end of break-ins.
Camped out in an undercover vehicle in Wooster Place at 2:48 a.m. on Nov. 16, New Haven Police Department Officers Robert Mencucci and Tom Benedetto saw two men: 19-year-old Kishon Mandell Gray, and, as the New Haven Register reported, a juvenile who lists the same home address, attempting to break into the cars off Wooster Place. The officers arrested the men for possession of burglary tools, and Gray was charged with use of drug paraphernalia, according to court documents. The area has since witnessed only two break-ins.
“If the neighborhood doesn’t man up and take control of their situation … I think it’s going to happen again,” said Rocky Pratt of the New Haven Guardian Angels, a non-armed citizen group that patrols neighborhoods to reduce and prevent crime.
Yousey-Hindes said he thought the police response was effective.
“We’re optimistic if we do get another spike, given the success of this approach, [catching the perpetrators] will be even quicker,” he added.
Thirteen of 20 residents interviewed noticed an increased police presence prior to the arrest, and 11 of those 13 have since noticed it decline. Nine of the 13 said they think the break-ins have significantly decreased because of police action.
Yousey-Hindes said the watch told community members to alert police of any break-in incidents whereas in the past they might have only called their insurance companies.
Yousey-Hindes said the police were effective in increasing their presence in the area, increasing the number of squad cars, foot patrols and bicycles. He added that police presence has since lessened but is still more than it was before the slew of break-ins.
“I don’t think we’ll completely stop car break-ins,” Joe Avery of the NHPD said, “but we put hopefully put a dent in them.”
Pratt said if three to four people walk around a neighborhood at night, a thief would be more scared of them, and the patrols would serve as a crime deterrent.
Yousey-Hindes said the watch originally thought the thieves were breaking into cars with crowbars and thought it would be too dangerous for community members to confront them.
Though it was one idea brought up at block watch meetings last month, the watch will not be asking for foot patrols at night, Yousey-Hindes said.
Pratt said he offered the residents to patrol the area with the Guardian Angels, but was not invited.
“It’s a very laid-back area,” Pratt said, “and I know the residents kind of rely on the police department to take care of their problems.”
He added that the Wooster community operated mostly by window watching and tweeted each other when they noticed a break-in. But most of the crimes were committed between two and five in the morning while residents were asleep, so the break-ins went unobserved, he said.
“If you patrol an area, make yourself highly visible, [they’re] going to have to go somewhere else,” Pratt said. “That’s how simple it is, watching your personal property, telling the thieves that I care about this area.”
But, Yousey-Hindes said the perpetrators would break into cars regardless of whether or not valuables were visible. He added that they would break the side window with screwdrivers, rifle through the car, take anything of value and move onto the next car.
“If they got a GPS, great; if they got nothing but dirty underwear, that’s okay.”
The GPS, he said, is perfect for stealing because it is common, difficult to track and can be sold quickly.
Pratt said thieves could break into, search, and leave a car in less than a minute, so car alarms are of no use to their owners.
Wooster Square resident Cindy McCarroll said she reported a break-in to the police when she noticed a car on Academy Street with its window smashed.
“There’s broken glass everywhere [around here],” McCarroll said.
Jennifer Kelly, one of the family owners of Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana, said she did not believe the break-ins would stop completely, but added that she thought the police were doing a good job of increasing their presence in the neighborhood.
The most recent car break-in reported to the block watch occurred Nov. 27 on Olive Street between Court and Greene.