ANNAPOLIS – There’s good news for Maryland drivers: automobile theft is declining in almost every county. Of course, there’s bad news for certain drivers. Automobile thieves play favorites, typically stealing certain types of cars.
Car thieves stole 27 percent fewer vehicles in 1998 than they did four years ago, according to preliminary statistics from the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council. In Baltimore and Baltimore County, the number decreased by 45 percent. But the drop is not as significant in Prince George’s County, and Harford County’s thefts are rising.
The thieves have preferred vehicles. In 1997, the Honda Accord was the most commonly stolen vehicle in the state, followed by the Ford Mustang, Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Caravan and Dodge Shadow. Next were the Ford F-150, Toyota Camry, Ford Escort, Chevrolet Cavalier and Honda Civic to round out the top 10.
The list for 1998 won’t change much, said Ray Presley, executive director of the theft prevention group, because thieves can steal certain automobiles easily and make a lot of money from selling them.
“It runs fairly the same from year to year,” he said. “We have reformed vehicle thieves who do demonstrations, and they can break into an Accord in 15 to 18 seconds. They’re very popular vehicles, and they’re very easy to steal.”
But the situation differs dramatically from 10 years ago. From 1983 to 1994, vehicle theft increased by 143 percent in Maryland, while nationally it went up 51 percent, according to the prevention council.
In 1997, 30,646 vehicles were stolen in Maryland, according to statistics. Presley projects the total will be fewer than 30,000 for 1998.
Statistics from the first half of 1998 show how car thefts have decreased in the counties.
From January to June, 4,055 vehicles were stolen in Baltimore, compared with 5,094 last year.
“Baltimore City used to be No. 1 in car theft, but now it’s No. 2,” Presley said. “Prince George’s County is the place where we have a problem now.”
Prince George’s County reported 4,536 thefts in that six-month period, compared with 4,576 for the same time in 1997. Neighboring Montgomery County had substantially fewer thefts with 1,513 in the first six months of 1997 and 1,323 in 1998.
The problem in Prince George’s County is that it borders high car theft areas in Washington, said Sgt. Mitch Cunningham, commander of the Centralized Auto Theft Team of the Montgomery County Police.
“Washington, D.C., has the highest auto theft rate per capita in the nation, and that spills over into P.G. County,” Presley said.
In Harford County, the statistics aren’t encouraging to drivers. While thieves stole 154 cars in the first six months of 1997, they stole 198 in that time period in 1998. That’s a 28.6 increase.
“If you put police pressure on any one area, the crime pops out in another area,” Presley said. “That seems to be the case with Harford County.”
Police officers applaud the statewide decrease, crediting increased prevention methods and public awareness. They warn drivers, however, that they should take simple methods to ensure their vehicles’ security.
“The fact is the vast majority of vehicles stolen are left unlocked, and a significant number have their keys in them,” said Capt. Greg Shipley, with the Maryland State Police.
Presley recommends drivers follow three rules: lock the car, take the keys and use an anti-theft device like a Club or kill switch. A Club locks the steering wheel in place, and a kill switch won’t allow anyone to start a car if the steering column has been broken. “If we could just get people to lock their cars and take the key,” he said, “that would be a start.”