Police 'steal' valuables from unlocked cars to teach owners a lesson

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Police officers in Connecticut are trying to teach drivers a lesson the hard way -- by turning into car thieves.

Officers are stealing from people who are not locking their car doors. Police say they hope that sinking feeling you get when you realize your car has been broken into will remind people to lock their doors.

Officers have been going through unlocked cars checking for visible valuables. If they see it, they'll take it and leave a note to let owners know they can claim their belongings at the police station.

The program has sparked controversy, and at least one lawyer thinks the preventative program is unconstitutional.

"What they're doing here is in my judgment is unquestionably a 4th amendment violation. They ought to get sued," said New Haven Civil Rights Attorney John Williams.

He says the pilot program is against federal search warrant laws.

"In effect what they're doing is stealing these people's property. They have no right to enter their car at all because just because the fact it's not locked doesn't mean it's not your private property."

City representatives say there is a "caretaker" provision in state law that allows them to do this.

"Well there is an exemption in standard search warrant provisions to allow for this caretaker action," said Laurence Grotheer, a New Haven City spokesperson.

As we head into the holiday season, police say it is especially important to lock you doors because that is when we see a huge spike in car burglaries nationwide.


CNN contributed to this report.