TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. –– The Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating dozens of thefts from motor vehicles from multiple area towns including Ithaca, Groton, Dryden and Lansing, since December 2020. According to Lieutenant Kyle Koskinen, 24 incidents were reported over December, January, and February. In addition, the New York State Troopers Office has received a handful of similar incidents during that same time period.
“For every one reported, four go unreported,” Lt. Koskinen said, indicating that it’s highly likely there were even more incidents. Oftentimes because what’s taken isn’t always noticeable and the individuals aren’t breaking into locked vehicles but rather opening unlocked vehicle doors.
He continued, “generally what’s taken is loose change or cash. They’re not taking anything expensive and leaving electronics. Sometimes people don’t even realize stuff was taken.”
Jerry Dennis, a Groton resident, was one of those people. On the morning of February, 11, he got in his truck to go to work and noticed that everything was open and $30 was missing, but he thought maybe it was just his daughter so he went to work thinking nothing of it.
Later that day, his daughter noticed change was missing from her car and told her dad when he got home from work. That’s when he called to file a report and when he found out multiple neighbors also had money taken from their vehicles.
“Now we lock all cars every night and both cars have alarms,” Dennis said.
Lt. Koskinen said the sheriff’s office believes a person gets dropped off on a street and works their way looking for unlocked cars until they find what they need then they call the driver to get picked up.
Trooper Aga Dembinska of the state police said they’ve come to the same conclusion about the suspects. “None of the vehicles in either case were damaged, they were unlocked. The suspect/suspects are not smashing windows and prying car doors open but checking car doors,” Dembinska said in an email. “When they find an unlocked vehicle, they rummage through it and take items.”
Mike Warner, who lives in the town of Groton, said he has even seen suspects in the act. He recalls seeing two men run between his house and garage, down his driveway, and toward Cobb Street in the early hours of February 11 while he was letting his dog out. Shortly after, his wife, Pam, saw a car come from Cobb Street and head toward the village of Groton. They reported it to the village police who referred them to Tompkins County dispatch. Mike spoke with dispatch who said they would give the information to the officers involved in the investigation.
According to law enforcement, the nature of the crimes has made it difficult for the sheriff’s department to find the people responsible since they’re mostly on foot and can move out of sight at any time. In addition, every incident has occurred between 1 and 6 a.m. and have been so spread out.
The Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office has sent out unmanned patrols during those hours and put in overtime just to find those responsible.
“The problem with that is it’s so sporadic. Where do we focus our resources on? [With it being spread out over five towns] It’s unpredictable where it’ll happen again,” Lt. Koskinen said.
The sheriff’s office is urging people to come forward with any footage of anything suspect because the more information the better to assist in this ongoing investigation.
“When something is happening, we need people to call us,” he said. “It’s how we’ve caught people in the past when a patrol car is close by.”
Dashcam footage of a person in the road picking up items they dropped from Groton early in the morning on December 28, has popped up in a community Facebook group. The sheriff’s office was never contacted about it or given it, and actually found it on Facebook. Lt. Koskinen said the department had a patrol vehicle close by that night and if someone had reported it when it was happening, they would have been able to get the person. You can see the footage here.
Trooper Dembinska said the New York State Trooper’s office had a report of items taken from an unlocked vehicle on December 28, around 4 a.m. on Smith Road in Groton. The dash cam footage from the same date has a timestamp of 4:51 a.m. After this incident, NYS troopers increased patrols in the area.
The footage has given the sheriff’s office some leads but mostly led them to Cayuga County Sheriff’s Office who saw the footage and contacted Tompkins County about it. Cayuga County thought maybe there was a connection between that footage and the thefts from motor vehicles they’ve seen in their county. Additionally, Cortland County Sheriff’s Office believes there is a connection among all three counties as they’ve experienced similar thefts.
Lt. Field from Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office said they have identified two possible suspects but haven’t brought them in yet (as of publication) because it covers two other counties. He was going to speak to those counties to see if they’ve brought the suspected individuals in for questioning.
Lt. Koskinen said that if the suspects are properly identified and can be connected to the crimes in all three counties, they will be charged separately in each county. Those who reported thefts and loss of money should see their money back from restitution.
Neither the Cortland or Cayuga County Sheriff’s Offices responded by the publishing of this article.
If anyone has any information or footage that can help this investigation in any way, call the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office at 607-257-1345 or the tip line at 607-266-5420. All information can be provided anonymously.