ANNAPOLIS – Maryland soon will start tracking car thieves by high-tech means.
As Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend looked on, Col. David Mitchell, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, and Charles “Mike” Daley, chairman of the LoJack Corp., signed an agreement Friday that will provide some police agencies around the state with LoJack’s sophisticated electronic tracking system.
Maryland joins 13 other states – including Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. – as LoJack clients, creating what Mitchell called a “single web” to catch car thieves.
“People in Maryland are sick and tired of having their cars stolen, and LoJack will help us do something about it,” Townsend told the gathering of police officials and reporters.
Furthermore, she said LoJack would aid police in discovering “chop shops” and loading docks, where stolen cars are shipped overseas.
Distribution of the LoJack system will be coordinated by the state police.
Daley emphasized that the program will not cost taxpayers anything.
His company supplies all the computer equipment and the trackers installed in police cars, he said. He added that the system costs consumers $595 and can be purchased from new car dealers, some alarm dealers, or via a toll free call.
Mitchell said initially the program will focus on the seven jurisdictions where the most cars are stolen. This includes Baltimore City as well as Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Charles, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
State police records show that 16,920 cars – or 94 percent – were stolen in these areas during the first half of 1996.
Overall, those records show there were 17,966 cars stolen in Maryland, a five percent increase over the same six-month period in 1995. According to state police, 36,176 cars, valued at more than $252 million, were stolen last year.
That increase made automobile theft the fastest growing crime in the state, state police records show. State police spokesman Mike McKelvin said Lexus, Acura and Toyota 4-Runner were the most popular brands stolen.
Among state regions, the Washington, D.C., suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were hit hardest. In those counties, the car theft rate jumped 24.7 percent, as bandits made off with more than 7,500 cars during the first half of 1996.
Southern and Western Maryland showed slight drops in auto thefts.
Daley said he thinks his firm will help police whittle those numbers down.
Touting LoJack’s 95 percent success rate in recovering stolen vehicles, Daley said when LoJack was introduced in Massachusetts in 1986 that state was “the stolen car capital of the world,” meaning it ranked first in the country in terms of the number of cars stolen annually. Today Massachusetts ranks 20th, he said.
Last year, police around Maryland recovered 68 percent of stolen vehicles.
Daley also said LoJack-equipped cars are usually recovered with less than $1,000 in damage, whereas those cars without usually suffer anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 in damages.
He added if the stolen vehicle is not recovered within 24 hours, consumers get their money back.
Here’s how LoJack works.
The company installs a radio transceiver the size of a chalkboard eraser. Daley said the transceiver purposefully looks like any other auto part.
Once the car is reported stolen, police activate the transmitter and turn on their receivers.
A unique LoJack code, paired to the vehicle identification number in a central computer, is transmitted by silent signal to the police cruiser’s tracking computer, leading police to the vehicle.
Daley said even if the vehicle is taken to an area without the tracking system, he expressed confidence it would be recovered because thieves usually drive back into a tracking area.
“Most cars wind up staying pretty close to home,” Daley said.
Daley refused to comment on the number of LoJacks there are in operation and refused to show a model of the system, although he did display an older model that the company no longer uses.
“We want thieves to think every car is a LoJack car,” Daley said.
The seven areas mentioned are expected to have LoJack systems before the end of the year. For the program to expand, LoJack will make deals with other jurisdictions individually. -30-