Auto thefts jump 44% over 1993, as other crimes show declines

April 29, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Baltimore Police DepartmentSun Staff Writer Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

The cold winter may have helped reduce the city's record homicide rate, but it did nothing to keep thieves from stealing cars, according to quarterly crime statistics released by the Police Department yesterday.

Authorities reported a staggering 44 percent jump in auto thefts, with increases in eight of the nine police districts -- including Central, which includes the downtown tourist areas.

During the first three months this year, 3,219 cars were stolen, up 993 from the same period last year when 2,226 cars were

reported taken.

Overall, crime increased 3.7 percent compared to the first quarter of 1993.

"If it wasn't for the number of auto thefts, we would show an overall decrease," said Sam Ringgold, a city police spokesman. He said the department was concerned about the increased number of stolen cars. "Those are big numbers."

The number of homicides dropped nearly 24 percent from January to March when compared to the same three months last year, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the harsh winter helped keep violent crime down in general.

The mayor said crime in the Greenmount-Barclay area, a drug-ridden neighborhood that was the scene of a crackdown in a series of raids aimed at drugs and weapons last month, dropped by 82 percent since police swept the area.

In other crime areas, police said, the number of reported forcible rapes dropped by 12 percent, from 146 last year to 128 so far this year. Burglaries also showed a 12 percent decrease, from 3,736 incidents to 3,272.

The number of robberies increased nearly 2 percent, and aggravated assaults showed an 8 percent increase.

Mayor Schmoke said the statistics were mixed news. While violent crime, such as homicide and rape, fell, he said he was concerned about the high number of auto thefts.

He urged residents to take more precautions by locking car doors, using safety devices and not leaving packages inside vehicles. "I know if we are vigilant, we can get that auto theft rate down," he said.

Police said arrests for auto thefts increased by 38 percent, but the numbers do not necessarily reflect how many theft cases were solved since a number of people could be charged with stealing one car.

A Baltimore Sun series in February reported that a record 11,331 cars were stolen in 1992, and that the department's seven auto theft investigators no longer attempt to gather physical evidence.

Recovered vehicles are routinely returned to owners from the Pulaski Highway impound lot without examination. "We just don't have the manpower to follow up in that way," one detective said.

Mr. Ringgold said the number of car thefts typically are high in the downtown area where the influx of tourists may attract thieves. But he was at a loss to explain the rise in other districts, such as Southwest, where 522 cars were reported stolen, compared with 285 in the first quarter of 1993.

"Last year, there was a lot of attention to auto thefts," Mr. Ringgold said. "Everyone went out and bought auto theft prevention devices and car alarms. After a while, people get lax. They leave 'The Club' in their trunks and don't turn their alarms on."

As to the reduced number of homicides, which dropped from 80 during the first quarter last year to 61 this year, Mr. Ringgold credited the unusually cold weather and increased help from residents. "We know more people are calling in about people armed with guns," he said.

As of yesterday, 88 people had been killed in the city, compared with 109 at the same time last year.

Mr. Ringgold said it is too early for the new commissioner, Thomas Frazier, who was confirmed by the City Council in February, to take credit for the drop in murders during the first three months. "But we know that when he arrived, he made his top priority gun violence."

AUTO THEFTS REPORTED IN BALTIMORE

Figures represent first three months in each year.

....... ...... ...... 1993 .. 1994

Central District: ...... 156 .... 303

Southeastern District:.. 160 .... 260

Eastern District: ...... 164 .... 148

Northeast District: .... 361 .... 514

Northern District: ..... 309 .... 414

Northwestern District:.. 393 .... 509

Western District: ...... 208 .... 299

Southwestern District:.. 285 .... 522

Southern District: ..... 190 .... 250

TOTAL: ......... ...... 2,226 .. 3,219

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