Sauk Prairie Police pursued a stolen vehicle Sept. 26 believed to be linked to a string of recent car thefts and break-ins throughout southern Wisconsin.
Although officers pursued the vehicle and spike strips were deployed, the individuals managed to flee the area. They were later located in the area of Middleton but police there were unsuccessful in apprehending them.
Public safety was the primary concern during the chase and police decided further pursuit would jeopardize that.
“The vehicle accelerated to well over 100 miles per hour and continued to travel at well over 100 miles per hour on Prairie Street,” said Sauk Prairie Police Chief Jerry Strunz. “At those types of speeds, it’s going to be a very tragic incident.”
Strunz said that while no arrest was made, the suspects were at least chased out of Sauk Prairie. Officers were strategically located during the shift anticipating the possibility of the suspects attempting thefts in Sauk Prairie.
Strunz said additional officers are patrolling Sauk Prairie, with double or even triple the typical number of officers on patrol at times
The vehicle was a Chrysler 200 stolen out of the city of Madison. Multiple people were in the vehicle.
In addition to locking vehicles, Strunz advises residents to remove garage door openers from vehicles overnight and make sure the door between the garage and the residence is locked.
“What we’re noticing with this group is they’re committing crimes of opportunity,” Strunz said. “They’re targeting nice residential neighborhoods where they’re specifically looking for high dollar vehicles.”
Audis, BMWs and Mercedezs are brands being sought after, Strunz said.
This does not mean non-luxury brand cars are less likely to be broken into or stolen. Strunz said Honda CRVs and HRVs are still targeted.
“They will occasionally steal an older Chevy Caprice when the crime of opportunity is available,” Strunz said.
Sauk Prairie Police Lieutenant Travis Hilliard said it is common to see stolen vehicles turn up in neighboring communities.
The incidents have taken place in a multi-county area. Strunz said as many as nine counties could be involved. Not only have incidents occurred in Dane, Sauk and Juneau Counties, Strunz said activity has been noted as far as Winnebago, Waukesha and Jefferson Counties as well.
The suspects are known to be active nearly every night.
“We have a very large network from across southern Wisconsin that is working on this jointly,” Strunz said. “We are sharing information.”
The Wisconsin Department of Justice is now involved with the case.
“The most concerning part to me is the fact that these individuals are very brazen,” Strunz said. “They will roll into a neighborhood (with) four or five individuals running down the street, both sides of the street… checking every vehicle and every residence to see if they can gain entry.”
In a video taken in Cottage Grove, suspects are seen running along a vehicle checking for unlocked doors. A driver stays in the vehicle at all times for a quick getaway if needed.
One night in Madison, three vehicles were stolen out of the same house.
Garage remotes can be used to enter the garage and from there, the residence. With keys being often stored on a wall mounted key-ring next to the garage door, this can make stealing vehicles quick and simple.
Firearms have been stolen by suspects. If seen, Strunz said he does not recommend witnesses engage with suspects directly, but instead alert law enforcement.
“I think it’s a very good assumption that at any given time these individuals could be armed,” Strunz said.
Strunz said he was concerned by the number of reports he’s seen of individuals who have concealed carry licenses leaving firearms in an unsecured vehicle overnight. He added that while many concealed carry licensees behave responsibly, others should remember to remove guns from vehicles.
“Leaving a gun overnight in a car that is unsecured is not a good idea,” Strunz said.
There have been some vehicles stolen recently in Sauk Prairie, but Strunz said at this time investigations do not indicate they are related to the current group of thefts across southern Wisconsin.
Property stolen from vehicles in Sauk Prairie may indeed be related however.
The areas of Hanksfield and Westwynde in Prairie du Sac have been particularly active.
Strunz said keeping front house lights on at night can help law enforcement by making streets more visible.
“If you see something that looks out of the ordinary, you’re not going to bother us by calling us,” Strunz said. “We need the eyes and ears of the community, to resolve this issue.”
Because multiple vehicles are used at a time by the group of suspects, Strunz said sometimes the group will split up and attempt break-ins in multiple municipalities at once.
“We need people to take this seriously,” Strunz said.