BURRILLVILLE/ NORTH SMITHFIELD – A youth gang from Hartford, Conn. is responsible for a crime spree over the past 18 months across northern Rhode Island and beyond, including vehicle break-ins, multiple car thefts and high speed chases.

Burrillville Police Col. Stephen Lynch is warning residents to lock their vehicles, and not to leave valuables inside their cars overnight.

“If they see it and get the idea that they like it, they’re going in,” Lynch said of the culprits. “If the key is in the car, they’re going to steal it.”

The colonel said there have been four or five car thefts in Burrillville alone, in a crime spree that started roughly 18 months ago. There has also been a large spike in the number of vehicles that have been rummaged through in areas throughout town.

“This has happened all throughout Burrillville,” Lynch said, noting the crimes span both highly populated and more rural areas of town.

“The group is brazen and almost fearless in their activity,” he said.

Almost all of the vehicles stolen have been recovered in a vandalized state in Hartford area, Lynch noted.

“We believe the suspects involved are involved in youth gang activity,” he said.

The colonel noted that he believes the Hartford-based gang is made up of 16 to 24 year-olds. Items stolen from cars in communities outside of Burrillville have included guns and other weapons, creating a potentially dangerous situation for law enforcement.

And the suspects, Lynch noted, have consistently attempted to elude police.

“They’re not stopping,” he said.

As a result, the break-ins – which begin with suspects entering unlocked vehicles – have resulted in a number of high-speed chases.

“It poses great officer safety issues if these people are armed during their next theft,” Lynch said. “That’s my fear.”

Just last week, Lynch said that Burrillville police attempting to stop some suspects lost them over the Glocester town line.

Residents have reported similar crimes in North Smithfield, with one recently taking to social media to post video footage of the culprits from his security system in hopes of helping police catch those responsible.

“Many of you may know there were several car break ins around North Smithfield this holiday weekend,” he noted. “Please share as much as possible to help identify these juvenile delinquents so that the authorities can catch/charge them and teach them a life lesson.”

Several North Smithfield residents reported criminal activity in the area of Mattity Road.

Additional reports have come out of police departments in East Greenwich, Coventry and Warwick, as well as Uxbridge, Mass . In one community, a homeowner fired upon suspects.

“That’s how volatile this is getting,” Lynch said.

When arrests have been made, many have been from the Hartford area.

“For us, it’s numerous,” Lynch said of Burrillville.

The colonel has one piece of advice for residents throughout town and beyond.

“Lock your car. Do not leave valuables and your keys in your car,” he said. “If you do, you can almost guarantee that your car ins going to be stolen.”

Anyone with information regarding the identities of those involved is asked to call the Burrillville Police Department at (401) 568-6255.

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