Two Cecil County youths were arrested in Bel Air last week after a search of a car turned up a shotgun, $107 worth of coins and a key that opens parking meters, police said.
An officer who received a call about suspicious activity stopped the youths at Thomas and Hays streets about 10 p.m. Sunday, Bel Air police said.
The boys -- a 16-year-old from Rising Sun and a 17-year-old from North East -- told Officer Ben Lay they had car trouble, and one said he had called his father for help, police said.
The officer then spotted a long-barreled shotgun and a jar of coins in the car, police said.
A search turned up a blue denim bag full of coins and the key used to open several parking meters along Thomas Street and on the parking lot next to the Mary Risteau Building, police said.
The youths told police they had bought the key from a stranger for $250. They were charged with theft, possession of a deadly weapon and being rogues and vagabonds.
The youths, who were not identified because they are juveniles, were released to their parents, pending action by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services.
Ed Booher, of Booher Associates, the company that services the meters in Bel Air, said thefts from parking meters are not unusual. He said it has long been suspected that a theft ring is operating along the East Coast, mostly in smaller towns.
"I know that as far back as 10 years ago, word was out that money was being stolen from meters and that in most cases, keys were used to gain entry," he said.
One key usually opens all the meters in a town the size of Bel Air. Larger towns have several keys for meters.
Thefts from parking meters occurred in Annapolis and Alexandria, Va., last spring, and the amount of money taken in each case was less than $200. No arrests were made in either incident.
Steve Johnson, superintendent of public parking for the city of Frederick, said the locking mechanism is not sophisticated. He said thieves hit parking meters in Frederick about two years ago and that two youths were arrested.
They were caught emptying meters on a parking lot next to the city's court house, he said, but were never prosecuted. He said they had taken less than $300.
Mr. Booher said he was happy to hear about the Bel Air arrests and that the money was recovered. He said he had received word about two weeks ago that the town had approved money to change the locking mechanism on all of its meters.