TRUMBULL — Former First Selectman Paul Timpanelli recently got a middle-of-the-night reminder that vehicle thefts and burglaries are an ongoing problem in town.

“I was in my living room, watching my Cleveland Indians lose at quarter to midnight, when all of a sudden the doorbell rings,” he said. “I looked outside and didn’t see anything, so I called out ‘Who is it?’ from the window.”

When a voice from the darkness replied, “Trumbull police,” Timpanelli said he flipped on his house’s exterior lights, revealing a uniformed officer at the door and a police car parked in front of the house.

“The officer told me that someone driving by had called to report that the door on my Jeep parked in front of the garage was open,” Timpanelli said. “He said there have been a lot of break-ins and they wanted to make sure everything was OK.”

Checking over the vehicle with the officer, Timpanelli concluded that nothing was missing, and then, mentally retracing his steps from that afternoon, concluded that he had left the door open when he arrived home.

Timpanelli later wrote a letter to the Trumbull Police Commission and Chief Michael Lombardo thanking the department for their quick response and professionalism. Though the incident turned out to be a false alarm, it illustrates a point police have been making for months: Simple mindfulness is the best preventative measure against thefts.

According to Lombardo’s October report to the Police Commission, there have been 38 vehicle thefts reported in town this year through September. Last year at this time, the number was 19. There have been 245 thefts from vehicles so far this year, compared to 94 through the first nine months of 2019.

Part of the problem is that thieves have been conditioned to think of Trumbull as easy pickings, according to Lt. Brian Weir.

“I hear it all the time, we take a report from someone about their car being stolen, and they say, ‘I thought this was a nice area,’” Weir said. “And it is a nice area. It’s not like it’s their neighbors that stole their car. But the neighborhood is an easy target where people have nice things.”

Despite a months-long awareness campaign, many people in town continue to leave their vehicles unlocked. Sometimes the resident even leaves the keys inside the unlocked vehicle. Potential thieves can simply walk from house to house pulling on car door handles. When an unlocked door pops open, they then grab anything valuable and are gone within seconds.

And sometimes the “it can’t happen to me” aura gets shattered repeatedly, Weir said.

“There have been times where we’re back at the same house taking a report a month after a previous break-in,” Weir said.

In fact, he said, on at least one occasion thieves entered an unlocked car, and took the key fob along with the rest of the valuables that had been left inside. A few weeks later, the thieves returned and used the stolen key to steal the car.

Weir said the best way to reduce the rate of car burglaries is to make it harder for the thieves. Simple actions like locking cars at night and not leaving valuables like laptop computers inside the passenger compartment where they are visible. Computer briefcases and other valuables should be brought into the house at night, or at least stowed out of sight, in the trunk or an interior storage compartment, police said.

In addition, paying attention to your surroundings is key, Weir said.

“The kicker is you’ve got to call if you see something,” he said.

Trumbull, with quick access to several major highways, allows easy entry and getaway and a car thief can be miles away in just a few minutes, Weir said.

“If you see or hear something outside, call police immediately,” Weir said. “If you see or hear something in the middle of the night, call right then. Don’t wait until morning to check it out, then call. By then, we’re seven hours behind.”

“A delay of just a few seconds can also mean the difference between a clean getaway and a suspect in custody,” Weir said.

“Don’t confront them. Don’t run outside and yell, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ Just be a good witness,” he said. “Call 911 and give a description, tell us what direction they went. Then we can come in and saturate the area.”

And even though it turned out to be a false alarm, Timpanelli’s situation showed how attentive neighbors and a fast police response could help prevent crime.

“I am reminded by this incident about how fortunate we are to have such professional, caring, capable people that do their best to protect our residents and their property,” Timpanelli wrote to Lombardo. “We should not take their presence for granted.”