By Ananda Shorey
WASHINGTON – Carjackings in Maryland fell for a third straight year in 1998, the most recent year for which figures were available, according to Maryland State Police.
The Maryland Motor Vehicle Robbery Report released this month said carjackings fell from 626 in 1997 to 509 in 1998. That was well below the peak of 891 carjackings in the state in 1995.
Experts attribute the decrease to an overall dropping crime rate, which has been driven by a prosperous economy, heightened awareness about carjacking as well as tougher law enforcement.
As in previous years, the vast majority of carjackings occurred in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. Carjacking victims were most often black males, as were the suspected carjackers. The weapon of choice was the handgun and the top day and month for carjackings were Saturday and January, respectively.
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said the continuing decline in carjackings, while part of an overall drop in crime, is at least partly attributable to education about the crime.
“The truth of the matter is that the crime rate as a whole has been falling for some time now,” said Chuck Porcari, the spokesman. “Through education efforts and media campaigns people have become more aware and wary of this type of crime.”
A Maryland State Police spokesman also noted that the strong economy “is having an impact on crime overall.” Pete Piringer said that when people are better off financially, they are less likely to commit crimes.
But officials from the Maryland Auto Theft Prevention Council attribute the drop in carjacking to public safety intervention, rather than just economics.
“Carjackings were at a high point in 1995, which is when the state began intervening and the rate of carjackings began dropping,” said Ray Presley, executive director of the council.
Presley pointed to the council’s Regional Auto Theft Task Force, a combined force of Baltimore city and county police officers who focus on stolen vehicles around the Baltimore area. He said the program, which is funded by the council, is one of the factors that contributed to decreased rates.
A Baltimore City Police Department spokesman agreed that law enforcement must get some of the credit for the decline.
“There is a downward trend in crime, but definitely the efforts of the men and women in the Baltimore City Police Department have made a difference,” said Sgt. Scott Rowe, the spokesman.
Rowe said that, along with police efforts, public awareness is important in lowering the number of carjackings. He said that a significant drop became apparent when Maryland police and residents started working together to combat the crime.
“In essence, people have become more careful and aware of what is happening,” Rowe said.
Piringer said that he is seeing more people taking precautions, such as remembering to always remove their keys from their cars, parking in lighted areas and not loading themselves down with bags or other items that could make someone a target.
“A lot (of carjackings) do occur when you’re getting in and out of the car,” Piringer said. “Carjacking is a crime of opportunity, as most crimes are.”
Porcari offered another possible reason for the drop in carjackings.
“Maybe cars are uglier and older (this year),” he said.