Answers sought to teen crime wave in Prospect

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PROSPECT – State Reps. Lezlye Zupkus and Craig Fishbein and Prospect Police Lieutenant Nelson J. Abarzua talk during a Juvenile Justice Forum on Jan. 10 at the Prospect Community Center. Contributed

By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

PROSPECT — As the state handles a wave of juvenile crime, including motor vehicle thefts, a pair of Republican state representatives hosted a Juvenile Justice Forum on Monday.

State Reps. Lezlye Zupkus and Craig Fishbein hosted a virtual forum through Zoom. The forum which was originally scheduled to be held at the Prospect Community Center was later moved online. Zupkus represents the 89th district comprised of Bethany, Cheshire while Fishbein represents 90th district made up of Cheshire and Wallingford.

The forum touched on the history of how the judicial system has changed when dealing with juvenile crime over the last decade, the loss of the Connecticut Juvenile Training Service building, state statistics on juvenile crime and proposed reforms.

“I think each and every one of us in one way, shape or form have been touched by this,” Zupkus said during the virtual forum. “I know in Prospect, we actually had someone that had shots fired at their house. We’ve heard of people, juveniles stealing cars with babies in them.”

In 2020, Connecticut saw a 40 percent increase in car thefts, which totaled more than 8,400, the highest amount it has been since 2011 according to Zupkus’ press release for the forum.

“All across the state, on a daily basis, we see it in the news,” said Fishbein who is an attorney at Fishbein Law Firm, LLC, in Wallingford. “Very troubling incidences involving juveniles stealing cars and collateral events as a result of that.”

There were 667 arrests for motor vehicle thefts, including 143 that were of juvenile in 2010 statewide. In 2018, there were 811 arrests for motor vehicle thefts, including 289 of these arrests that were of juveniles or a 101% increase from 2010 according to the presentation.

Prospect police Lt. Nelson J. Abarzua said the town has had a total of 163 larcenies in 2021, where the police investigated 42 cases. Out the cases looked into, six cases were motor vehicle thefts.

Prospect police Lt. Nelson Abarzua. Archive

“One of the motor vehicle thefts was taken out of a family’s garage. The garage door was left open. They went in there, drove the vehicle out of the garage, made their way into Naugatuck where they attempted to steal another vehicle from another house where the car was parked inside the garage,” Abarzua said. “When they arrived at the second garage incident, the homeowner was in the kitchen and heard the noise and came outside and startled them. Those juveniles pointed a weapon at the homeowner in Naugatuck and then they sped away.”

Through education and the ability to communicate with residents, they are able to minimize thefts and crime in town.

Many citizens are trained or trained themselves to lock their doors and bring in their personal belongings, Abarzua said.

“I want to thank all the residents in town that continuously send me their videos from their Ring system or security system that emailed me the videos,” Abarzua said. “The citizens of the town of Prospect, we have to continuously stay aware of our surroundings at all time.”

A couple of the proposed reforms include focus on getting the juvenile into a diversionary program at the time of arraignment and to require expedited arraignment or a next day court hearing for juveniles arrested for a felony, a Class A misdemeanor, a charge resulting from loss of life or serious physical injury, a sexual assault, or an offense involving a firearm according to Fishbein.

Fishbein said that people could get involved by calling Gov. Ned Lamont’s office, House Democrats or Senate Democrats at the state to get more dialogue on how to solve the problem.