Southampton Town Police Chief Urges Public: Help Us Help You

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Home surveillance video captured images of one of the dozens of car thefts in Southampton. COURTESY STPD

Richard Mandell and his wife Susan went to sleep in their Water Mill home on the night of November 23. Tucked into their house on a dead end street, the couple didn’t bother to lock the brand new 2020 BMW X3 parked in their driveway.

While they slept, thieves struck.

The next morning, Mr. Mandell related, he was indoors when Mrs. Mandell came in and asked, “Where’s the car?” Realizing their new vehicle had been stolen, the couple contacted the Southampton Town Police.

They learned they weren’t alone. They learned that in the last year, thieves have taken dozens of unlocked luxury cars from residential driveways in high end Hamptons neighborhoods.

According to Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki, stolen vehicles reports are up 144 percent in 2020 over 2019. Overall, he said, major crimes have surged 29 percent this year, a statistic he called “significant and concerning.”

Alongside stolen cars, grand larcenies are up 22 percent and residential burglaries have increased by 36 percent.

To a great extent, the chief blames the COVID-19 pandemic. The population increase driven by well-heeled Manhattanites fleeing the city for the safer-seeming South Fork, combined with a significant number of local people facing financial hardship and still another segment of the community grappling with addiction problems driving them to increased use of substances, have all contributed to the increase in crime. Then add in a state bail reform program that, the chief said, means there are no repercussions for certain crimes — a person could be arrested for petty theft and, the chief said, “before the night is done, he’s back on the streets to do it again.”

“All of these collectively,” he said, “cause people to take advantage of the opportunity to steal property.” And with the holiday season underway, the temptation to commit crimes of opportunity, like stealing packages from an unlocked car or the doorstep of an empty house, burgeons.

“We’re attempting to advise the public to be more diligent,” the chief said. “With the holiday season coming up, we typically see an increase in property theft.”

When it comes to larcenies and burglaries, there’s no one area townwide that’s most vulnerable, the chief said. And there’s no one person committing such crimes as stealing items from parked cars. “No matter where you are in the township, the thought that you can leave property unsecured, that no longer exists” he said. “People are looking for opportunities to access property that doesn’t belong to them if you leave it out.”
With a month yet to go in 2020, there have been 202 grand larcenies reported to date, compared to 165 in all of 2019. There have been 38 burglaries so far this year, compared to 28 last year.

Prevention is key, Chief Skrynecki insists. Self-installed security systems, like Nest, that train cameras on a homeowner’s property are efficacious, “no doubt,” he said.

“More people are picking up self-installed security cameras. They’re very helpful, but the simplest thing is: secure your property,” the chief said. More than once this year and in more than one section of town, police have been called by victims who’d had wallets or purses stolen out of unlocked vehicles parked in their own driveways or even busy local shopping centers.

To deter such crimes, police suggest making sure to keep tempting items like electronics and purses out of view, hidden in the trunk. Locking the car doors seems like a no brainer, but, according to Southampton Town Police Lieutenant Sue Ralph, “We take quite a few police reports where car doors were left unlocked. Sometimes thieves will actually walk around a parking lot checking car doors for an easy target.”

The holidays are prime time for so called porch pirates who take advantage of deliveries left on homeowners’ stoops. Police recommend requesting specific times and dates for deliveries, or asking a friend or neighbor to be at your home to receive the packages in person. Consumers could try giving delivery directions that have packages left in areas that aren’t visible from the street. Better yet, consider having packages delivered to work, if your employer allows.

To deter burglars, the chief recommends having lights that operate on a timer and give the illusion of an occupied house. Leaving the television or a radio on indoors may provide the same deterrent.

“We’re hoping everybody has a peaceful and safe holiday season,” the chief continued, adding, “The public can help us help them by being more diligent in securing their property.”

By far the most costly and dramatic result of a lack of diligence or false sense of security is the theft of a family’s car. And, while other property crimes locally are perpetrated by individuals acting independently, the heisting of high end rides repeatedly traces to organized New Jersey-based car theft rings. Six cars were taken from Southampton Village driveways in a single neighborhood this past summer.

Confronting the rampant theft of luxury cars left unlocked and with their key fobs inside over the summer, a frustrated Chief Skrynecki said: “People are literally putting a sign on their car saying, ‘Take me.’”

It’s widely believed car theft rings out of New Jersey have found the South Fork a region ripe for the picking, a place where wealthy homeowners believe they’re safe, not just from coronavirus, but from crime as well.

“We’ve lived here 35 years,” Mr. Mandell said, reporting the New York City-based family is spending more time in the Hamptons since the COVID-19 crisis hit. “Sometimes we don’t even lock our doors at night.”

Echoing the chief’s theory, he said, “I think these people are desperate for money and there’s plenty of people out here, especially this weekend for Thanksgiving.”

On certain cars like his BMW, the position of the car’s mirrors advertise whether it’s locked or not. Noting that he even has a garage where he could keep the vehicle, Mr. Mandell offered,

“My fault. … I have no one to blame but myself.”

“These are difficult times, we’ve got to change our ways,” Mr. Mandell said.

There’s a happy ending to the Mandells’ story. The BMW’s tracking device led police to Lebanon, New Jersey, where the vehicle was located and a thief apprehended, the couple’s son, Matthew reported on Tuesday. The Beemer was found “in the middle of nowhere” the next day after the theft was reported.

Discussing the rash of thefts this past summer, the chief noted that the cars are often located with GPS technology and eventually returned to their owners. Those that aren’t, however, could be among vehicles shipped overseas and sold for massively inflated prices.

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