It has all the markings of a prison. A 10-foot-high chain-link fence with a half-dozen strands of barbed wire at the top surrounds the 23-acre site. A guard with binoculars scans the area from a 30-foot-high guard tower.
But in this case, the security measures are meant to keep people out -- not in.
Security measures at the city's abandoned vehicle yard in the 6700 block of Pulaski Highway, where last year more than 40,000 vehicles were taken for storage, are constantly being improved. But results appear mixed.
As many as 1,200 vehicles are at the yard on any given day. Most of them are recovered stolen vehicles. Others were impounded, wrecked or abandoned.
According to officials at the yard, while car thefts have been few, a persistent problem is the theft of equipment such as radios and personal possessions from vehicles.
But last weekend, three youths broke into the yard and stole three cars by driving them through the gate and fence, according to William J. Schaum, chief of the Abandoned Vehicle Division.
Mr. Schaum said the cars, which had been previously stolen and recovered by police, were being stored in the yard until their owners could reclaim them.
One car was stolen Saturday evening. A thief dug beneath the security fence to get to the car then drove it through a rear gate that had been secured with large chains and padlocks, said C. Frederick Raynor, superintendent of impoundment services.
Mr. Raynor said the previous weekend, a car was stolen by youths who used bolt cutters to remove the chains.
The car stolen Saturday was recovered when a police officer spotted it in the 1300 block of Valley St. in East Baltimore. The thief, who police described as a teen-age male, bailed out and fled when pulled over by the officer.
About 2:30 p.m. Sunday, two cars were stolen from the yard. The thieves drove through a section of fence next to the gate where a car had been temporarily placed to block the gate, Mr. Raynor said.
As one of the thieves -- a 13-year-old youth -- drove past the Southeastern District police station on Eastern Avenue, he saw a police officer leaving the station in a patrol car and panicked. The youth ducked beneath the windshield to avoid detection. He struck a truck and the car careened into the patrol car. The youth was arrested by the officer.
Police said the youth's 14-year-old friend abandoned the second car on a lot in Highlandtown. He was also arrested.
"It's embarrassing to us and to the city," said Mr. Raynor. "We do everything we can to protect the vehicles."
The task has not been easy.
The chain-link fence has been cut by thieves dozens of times. It has a quilt-like appearance from all the mending.
Metal poles have been positioned in the ground where some intruders have dug into the ground to gain entry.
Powerful lights on utility poles have been installed.
A Jersey wall is now being placed at the rear gate.
A special fenced area is used to protect motorcycles.
"We are always looking at ways to prevent thefts," Mr. Schaum said. "We run a first-class organization. I think we have good people with excellent integrity."
To beef up security, off-duty city police officers moonlight as guards to augment the private security firm, Security America, Mr. Raynor said.
Security America has provided security at the yard for about two years. The firm has performed only "average at best" at the yard, Mr. Raynor said.
"I'm not happy about the cars going out of here," he said.
The superintendent said before Security America got the job, the yard was guarded by moonlighting police officers. But city officials decided to go with the private firm to save money, Mr. Raynor said.
L Officials of the security firm were unavailable for comment.