Larceny, catalytic converter thefts top Milford crime stats, police chief says

 Milford Police Chief Keith Mello.

 Milford Police Chief Keith Mello.

Brad Horrigan | New Haven Register.

MILFORD — The black market for the precious metals inside the catalytic converters has escalated the car part theft in the city, according to Police Chief Keith Mello.

The issue is reflected in the city's crime stats for 2021 and through the last 12 months. The number of assaults on police officers has also been a problem in the city, with Mello being open about the difficulty in recruiting officers in the current climate.

Mello, citing the city's latest crime data, said the catalytic converter thefts and larceny have risen significantly over the past 12 months. Regarding the catalytic converter thefts, Mello said, from Sept. 30, 2021, to Oct. 4, 2022, there have been 404 catalytic converters stolen compared to 172 in 2021.

"Offenders commit these crimes quickly, and they are doing it often in broad daylight," Mello said. 

"It's important that the public realize that we have had three instances where people have been seriously assaulted trying to interrupt catalytic converter thefts," he added. "The best bet is to call the police department right away, and be a good witness for us, don't try to encounter these people on their own because history has shown they will often resort to violence."

Along with the jump in catalytic converter thefts, larceny has also significantly risen with 984 in the last 12 months alone.

The theft of the catalytic converters and larceny are part of the 1,407 offenses committed in Milford in 2021, according to statistics provided by Mello.

"It's important to see where the trends are rising, but it's also important to see how many thefts have been interrupted by our officers," said Mello.

In 2019, theft interruptions were zero. In 2021 there were six, and in the last 12 months there have been 38.

"This means that our enforcement activities are working with what you can see and can't see," he said. "We have certainly a uniform presence in marked police cars, but we also have others that you can't see, and with a combination of those, they have been successfully interrupted 38 thefts."

Those thefts range from stealing cars, catalytic converters, and other types of thefts.

"It shows that us putting resources where crime is most likely to occur, and our focus on being aggressive in putting teams out there is paying dividends," said Mello. 

Mello said he recognizes there are a lot of offenders, and there has been an increase in crime not only across the state but also across the country.

"As a result, we are responding very aggressively," he said.

Other crime stats for Milford in 2021 and the last 12 months are: 104 assaults in 2021; 103 auto thefts in 2021; eight gun cases in 2021; one homicide in 2021; 12 purse snatchings in 2021; 28 robberies in 2021; and 202 incidents of theft from auto in 2021.

A crime statistic that has significantly risen is assaulting police officers, six in all of 2021 and 13 in the last 12 months.

"It has to do with a number of things, but more and more police officers have been assaulted. We have had three officers in the last three months be assaulted and bitten, and at one point, they had to pull the person's jaws open to get the officers hands to out of the person's mouth," said Mello. "Unless and until these people that assault police officers serve some jail time, I think this is going to continue. We have to deter people from assaulting police officers."

"Police officers are equipped to handle verbal abuse, they don't like it, but they are equipped to handle that, but they shouldn't have to deal with physical abuse and the assaults," he added. "It is a felony, and people need to start serving some jail time. Supporting the police means holding accountable the people who attack and physically assault police officers, and in my view, that means having to serve at least some jail time."

What makes policing in Milford unique is the seven exits people can take to get into the city from different locations, stated Mello.

"Most of those exits are right on and right off," he said. "For that reason, Milford is very attractive to people that want to come to Milford and commit a crime, but we know that, and so that is why we are in those places where crimes are most likely to occur."

Overall, Mello said he is pleased with the support department personnel receives from the public.

"For that reason, it's a great community with a lot of public and political support, and we appreciate all the support. It means a lot to all of us and makes our job easier," he said. "But we see challenges with recruitment and retention like every other police department. I know that other industries are seeing the same thing, but some facets are unique to policing, coupled with all the other labor issues.

"So while we appreciate the support of our community and elected officials, the one thing we need is more police officers," added Mello. "And so, like last year, I will be requesting additional officers in the upcoming budget to address the increase in demand and crime and the rate of attrition we are all seeing in law enforcement."

The goal for Mello is to make people feel safe.

"That is our goal, and we want people to know we are out there aggressively in both patrol cars and undercover to make sure they are safe and feel safe," he said. "We want everyone who works here, travels here, and lives here to have a good and safe experience."