Hamden offers free steering wheel locks to deter car theft

Cat Murphy, Associate News Editor

The Hamden Police Department is providing free steering wheel locks to certain Hyundai and Kia owners amid rising motor vehicle thefts in Hamden.

Nearly 240 vehicles were stolen in Hamden in 2022, including 34 in December 2022 alone, according to HPD.

Just under half of the vehicles reported stolen in December were left either running or with the keys inside the vehicle, per a January 2023 press release from HPD. However, HPD added that 15 of the 34 total vehicles reported stolen in December 2022 were manufactured by either Kia or Hyundai.

“Many of these type vehicles do not have an immobilizer system, which is a useful piece of electronic security technology that acts as a deterrent to vehicle theft,” wrote Sgt. Angela Vey, HPD public information officer, in the Jan. 19 release.

An additional 28 vehicles were reported stolen in Hamden in January 2023, according to HPD. As of publication, at least 20 vehicles have been stolen since late February 2023, according to data published on the Community Crime Map.

It’s too much for the police to keep up with.

— Robert Markman, graduate business administration student

Robert Markman, a graduate business administration student at Quinnipiac University whose 2018 Hyundai was stolen from a local apartment complex parking lot in February, said he learned about the rising motor vehicle thefts only after his car was stolen.

“At first I don’t see my car and, jokingly, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I wonder what happened to my car,’” Markman told the Chronicle. “And then I saw the glass … in the spot where my car was.”

Police officers later discovered Markman’s stolen sedan abandoned in New Haven with a missing fender, a broken window, severe paint damage and mangled tires.

The #KiaBoys social media trend, which went viral on TikTok in 2021 and has over 27 million views as of publication, challenges thieves to target certain Kia and Hyundai vehicle models manufactured without immobilizers between 2010 and 2021, according to CNBC.

The TikTok challenge has caused at least 14 reported crashes and eight deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

CNBC reported in September 2022 that thieves target the susceptible vehicle models, which utilize mechanical keys rather than electronic key fobs, because the lack of an electronic immobilizer enables perpetrators to remove the steering wheel column and hot-wire the car with a USB cable in less than 30 seconds.

Graduate business administration student Robert Markman’s Hyundai sustained severe damage after being stolen in Hamden in February. (Photo contributed by Robert Markman)

“Since my car has been dropped off a couple of weeks ago, (the tow yard has) already had seven or eight more cars come in that were stolen,” Markman said. “It’s too much for the police to keep up with.”

Motor vehicle thefts accounted for more than 15% of reported crimes in Hamden between Feb. 24 and March 25, per the Community Crime Map. HPD also documented 30 incidents of theft from a motor vehicle, motor vehicle tampering and license plate theft during this period.

In a statement to the Chronicle, Chief of Public Safety Tony Reyes said there have not been any reported motor vehicle thefts on campus.

“The Hamden Police Department has not notified the university that there has been an uptick in car thefts in the immediate area around the Mount Carmel and York Hill campuses,” Reyes wrote.

Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Corp. developed theft deterrence software for vehicles that do not have immobilization systems in response to the national spike in vehicle thefts, per a Feb. 14 press release from the NHTSA. 

The NHTSA notes that the two automakers will install the anti-theft software, which doubles the length of the alarm sound and requires the key to be in the ignition, at no charge to the vehicle owner.

To further deter car thefts, Hyundai and Kia have provided local law enforcement agencies throughout the country with more than 26,000 steering wheel locks since November 2022, according to the NHTSA.

HPD is offering free steering wheel locks to vulnerable vehicle owners after receiving an unknown quantity of the security devices from Hyundai, according to a March 23 press release.

“Hyundai has distributed the steering wheel locks as part of their anti-theft service campaign, and will be given to anyone owning a Hyundai or Kia manufactured prior to November of 2021,” Vey wrote in the release. “The steering wheel locks can be picked up, free of charge, at the front desk of the Hamden Police Department, 2900 Dixwell Avenue, at any time.”

The department also recommended in January that drivers park in well-lit or covered areas, remove all valuables from their vehicle, roll up their windows and lock their car.

Vey did not immediately respond to the Chronicle’s request for comment.

Some Quinnipiac students expressed frustration with the lack of communication from the university about the rise in local vehicle thefts.

“I wish Quinnipiac worked more with Hamden to establish relationships so that I knew that,” said Ana Caliri, a junior health science studies and environmental studies double major. “I live in Hamden nine months out of the year, so why didn’t I hear about that?”

Graduate business administration student Robert Markman’s 2018 Hyundai sedan is still awaiting repairs after police found the vehicle abandoned in New Haven. (Photo contributed by Robert Markman)

Caliri, who drives a 2011 Hyundai and was unaware of HPD’s ongoing steering wheel lock initiative, said she believed Quinnipiac officials should have notified students about the potential security concerns.

“They’ve sent out emails about downed trees and construction and the catalytic converters being stolen,” Caliri told the Chronicle. “I feel like (the motor vehicle thefts are) something that really should be advertised.”

Clare Veverka, a senior nursing major whose Volkswagen was stolen from an off-campus house in Hamden in mid-2021, echoed Caliri’s frustrations.

“They work so closely with the Hamden Police,” said Veverka, whose car was later recovered in New Haven. “There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be communicating this info with us.”

Markman, whose Hyundai is still undergoing repairs several weeks after being stolen, agreed that university officials have a responsibility to inform students about the local vehicle thefts.

“I’m a little surprised that (Chief Reyes) didn’t say anything, honestly,” Markman said. “At the bare minimum, they should have put out some email, and they still should.”