Yeah, I’m pretty sure that it’s not “stealing,” it’s just regular old stealing. Taking another person’s property away from them without their permission is one of those things that society really frowns upon. Whoever came up with this idea really knocked it out of the park.
An unlocked car is not an invitation for others to help themselves to what’s inside. It is rather foolish to leave one’s car unlocked, yes, but that doesn’t change the ownership of the vehicle or its contents.
Now, I’m not a criminal lawyer, I don’t practice law in Connecticut, and I’m not familiar with this “caretaker” law to which the article refers. But in general, when someone takes your stuff without permission, it’s what we call “conversion” on the civil side of the law. Conversion is, essentially, taking someone’s stuff and converting it to your own use by exercising “control and dominion” over the property. Here in Michigan, if someone converts your property, you’re entitled to triple damages. So something like this can get pretty expensive quick for a police department stupid enough to pull a stunt like this.
Not to mention potential criminal issues of theft and entering someone’s vehicle without permission.
As a driver - hell, just as a citizen - this would make me so incredibly angry if it happened to me. It’s ridiculously invasive, an abuse of authority, almost certainly illegal (except maybe with Connecticut’s “caretaker law,” whatever that is), and it’s just plain stupid.