'Warden watchers': Shelton police launch crime prevention program

Shelton Police Officer John Staples Jr., left, with Mayor Mark Lauretti, right, and Police Chief Shawn Sequeira at his swearing in last January, is heading up the department's new crime prevention and neighborhood watch program.

Shelton Police Officer John Staples Jr., left, with Mayor Mark Lauretti, right, and Police Chief Shawn Sequeira at his swearing in last January, is heading up the department’s new crime prevention and neighborhood watch program.

Brian Gioiele / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — The police department is hoping to rebuild trust within the community while cracking down on the recent rash of property crimes throughout the city.

Police officer John Staples, who is spearheading the department’s crime prevention and neighborhood watch program, said the purpose is to develop community engagement, share information, bring awareness of criminal activity, as well as educating the public on how to avoid becoming a victim.

"I am about building relationships … building that trust with the community,” said Staples, a Bridgeport resident who joined the Shelton force last year. “The only way to get through this is to communicate. We want people to know we are here, and we are here to help.”

Staples’ efforts come as some in the city — including many Facebook posts in recent months — have criticized the department’s leadership in the wake of six terminations in the summer and fall.

To promote the program, the department has established a Facebook page.

The page comes months after Shelton resident JD Snyder created the Shelton Neighborhood Crime Watch Facebook page as a way for city residents to join the fight against people who steal from unlocked vehicles — and in some instances, stealing the vehicles as well.

The focus of the page started with numerous posts about incidents of thefts of vehicles or the valuables from inside, with many residents posting security cam footage of the suspects.

Snyder’s page has since morphed into a way to report various crimes — most recently, the firing of gun shots in front of the Russian Club of Shelton on Thursday.

Statistics posted on the Shelton police website show motor vehicle thefts jumped from 22 in 2019 to 60 in 2020, and that is only through November. There has also been an increase in thefts from motor vehicles, with 62 reported in 2019 and 81 through November 2020.

Staples hopes the department’s crime prevention page can offer a similar outlet for residents as well as offer tips and other information critical to the investigation of the crimes.

“I’m excited looking ahead into this new year for the coordination and implementation of various crime prevention safety tips along with building community relationships, knowing that the pandemic has caused even more separation within our community,” Staples said.

Part of Staples’ program calls for enlisting residents as “wardens.” Staples said he has begun gathering volunteers, but the process has been stalled by the pandemic. But when these wardens are in place, Staples said his plan is to meet quarterly to discuss issues in their neighborhoods.

“I’m hoping to create a system where public assists in watching neighborhoods and reporting to police,” Staples said. “I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the community members, including businesses and warden watchers over the past few months.”

Staples said the key is residents need to change their behavior to make it tougher for criminals to commit crimes.

“All of us have been making careless mistakes … it’s time to start being more proactive in locking vehicles, locking garages, change personal habits,” Staples said.

In December, Staples said there were 14 incidents reported of auto theft, attempted theft and recovered motor vehicles.

Of those crimes, Staples said one vehicle was reported to be locked at the time of theft; two vehicles taken were unlocked; two vehicles were started and left running to warm up when they were taken; seven vehicles had the keys in the vehicle when they were taken; one vehicle was recovered — stolen from another town; and one was an attempted theft.

"Some of the areas of the city have been hit hard, no question,” Staples said. “But I want the community to know we are here for them. Working together, we can do this. But it starts with communication. I am ready for those uncomfortable conversations. It’s all about trust. We are here for you.”