Rise in car thefts steers county toward doubling of 1986 total

August 16, 1993|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Staff Writer

Car thefts increased 7.6 percent in Howard County during the first half of 1993, continuing a climb that puts them on a pace to double the total for all of 1986, county police say.

The 536 reported vehicle thefts through June this year nearly match the 594 thefts recorded for all of 1986.

From 1986 to 1992, the number of vehicle thefts has generally crept upward, dropping occasionally because of the sporadic nature of the crime, police say. There were 739 vehicles stolen in 1988, for instance, 970 in 1990 and 929 in 1992.

Sgt. Gary Gardner, police spokesman, said the increase in stolen vehicles is consistent with the trend in other metropolitan counties.

"Ninety percent of it is joy riding, so it fluctuates," he said. "Auto theft is a very trendy crime. It's everywhere. Howard County is no different.".

This year, police have recovered vehicles or arrested suspects in at least 22 percent of auto theft cases.

To combat car thieves, county police attempt to focus patrols in areas where cars are stolen frequently, Sergeant Gardner said.

The addition of 39 recruits who will graduate from the police academy near the end of the year will be a welcome addition to the county's 166 patrol officers, he said.

In the Columbia area, the county's most populous, there were 204 thefts in the first seven months of this year.

From January to July 27, there were 89 car thefts in Ellicott City, while 69 cars were stolen in the Laurel area and 28 in Elkridge.

Twenty-five vehicles were taken in Jessup during the same period, and 33 were stolen in Savage. In rural western Howard County, six vehicles had been stolen through the end of July, police said.

Police said the most popular cars for thieves have been Chevrolets, Fords, Hondas, Toyotas and Acuras.

Two popular models -- Honda Accords and Acura Legends -- have been the hottest items for thieves cruising the parking lot at The Mall in Columbia, where 14 cars have been stolen since the beginning of summer. Ten of the stolen cars were recovered in Baltimore, police said.

Sergeant Gardner said that most places with large lots full of cars, such as malls and apartment complexes, offer variety to joy riders.

Thieves used to hit locations just off U.S. 40 in Ellicott City or U.S. 29 near Little Patuxent Parkway, routes offering easy escape, but recent experience indicates that almost any place could be vulnerable to auto theft, Sergeant Gardner said.

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