ANNAPOLIS – Car thefts are rising in rural areas where the population has surged in the past decade, at the same time they’re declining in Maryland’s metropolitan areas, according to a Capital News Service analysis of vehicle theft statistics.
The population of some of Maryland’s rural counties increased much faster than the state rate of 10.8 percent in the 1990’s, according to the 2000 Census, and with the crowds came car thefts.
In just seven years, stolen cars increased by 85.4 percent in Calvert County, where the population rose by 45.1 percent between 1990 and 2000 to 74,563.
“The only thing we can attribute it to is that the population almost doubled,” said Robin Cox, administrative assistant in the Investigations Division of the Calvert County’s Sheriff’s Office. “With that comes increased activity and crime.”
Vehicle thefts doubled between 1994 and 1999 in St. Mary’s County, where the population increased by 13.5 percent since 1990, the CNS analysis of Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council statistics shows.
The council was created in 1994 by the General Assembly to halt the state’s increasing number of stolen cars. A division of the State Police, the council releases vehicle theft statistics on its Web site.
The council funded efforts to cut car thefts in metropolitan areas, but in more rural areas of Maryland the crime continued to grow, and there were few resources to combat it.
Car thefts rose in seven of Maryland’s 23 counties: Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s and Washington counties.
Despite the increase, local officers are not worried.
“We don’t have a huge problem with auto theft in our county,” said Lt. John Horne, of St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office’s criminal investigations unit.
“Any time you have a large influx of people you’re gonna have an influx of crime,” he said.
Car thefts still are rare in the growing counties. More than 26,000 cars were stolen in the state in 1999 – the latest available statistics – with the bulk of them taken in Maryland’s metropolitan areas. While in the same year, just 89 vehicle thefts occurred in Calvert and 75 in St. Mary’s.
Car thefts in Maryland reached their peak in 1994 when 38,194 vehicles were stolen — more than half of them from Baltimore and Baltimore County. The rate dropped to 39.16 percent in 1999, thanks to a $400,000 per year council grant, said Lt. Barry Barber, who runs the Baltimore Regional Anti-Theft Team, or R.A.T.T.
Since it started in 1995, R.A.T.T. made 5,380 arrests, including 1,254 juveniles, and retrieved 4,710 cars, Barber said.
“The number of arrests we’re making were unheard of seven years ago,” said Barber, who supervises the 24-officer team.
R.A.T.T.’s approach, he said, is “to go where the thieves congregate.”
“It’s a much more aggressive approach.”
That tactic won’t work in Washington County, where vehicle thefts are too random for a task force to combat, said Lt. Douglas Mullendore, patrol commander of Washington County’s Sheriff’s Office.
Vehicle thefts in his county grew by 69.74 percent between 1994 and 1999.
“We give stolen vehicles a priority,” Mullendore said, but with the crime spread all over the county, “a task force couldn’t benefit us at this point.”