FAIRFIELD — The town is experiencing a wave of car break-ins, according to police.

At night, officers are frequently finding themselves engaged in pursuit of stolen cars and thefts from motor vehicles, said Capt. Robert Kalamaras of the Fairfield Police Department.

Over the past month - from Sept. 17 to Oct. 17 - the department reported 35 thefts from motor vehicles and 12 stolen vehicles.

And this trend has been ramping up for months. Since April 1, the department reported 175 burglaries and 41 stolen cars.

This is an epidemic facing Fairfield County as whole, where waves of car burglaries periodically sweep through towns. Westport faced its own peak in August, when 24 burglaries took place over two days.

A similar surge came in January, with multiple incidents reported in Fairfield, Westport and Darien.

In March, a preliminary report by the state Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee found that while car thefts have decreased in major cities including Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, their surrounding suburbs have become “hot spots” for these crimes.

The report noted that while cities with populations over 100,000 have seen a 30 percent decrease in thefts, towns of less than 25,000 people have witnessed a 21 percent increase.

Kalamaras said most these crimes are perpetrated by juveniles between the ages of 15 and 17, making law enforcement difficult.

Juvenile offenders are afforded greater protections in the criminal justice system, as mandated by the state.

This means Fairfield police often see the same juvenile offenders breaking into cars again and again, with fewer deterrents than adults.

“Because they are provided greater protections in the judicial system, they know that the punishments are minor and they can be back on the streets quickly,” Kalamaras said.

Also frustrating for police, these crimes are brought on largely by residents leaving their cars unlocked. According to Kalamaras, thieves tend to search for unlocked cars, which make for easy access.

“These criminals are opportunists,” Kalamaras said. “They walk in the shadows of residential areas and pull on door handles until they find an open door."

Perpetrators tend to search for valuables inside unlocked cars and sometimes, if a key fob has been left inside, drive away.

“Our community members can help to prevent these crimes by locking their cars and removing any valuables from the interior of the car,” Kalamaras said.

rscharf@hearstmediact.com