Car Theft Isn't FunnyNothing precipitates a family crisis...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

March 03, 1995

Car Theft Isn't Funny

Nothing precipitates a family crisis faster than a car that won't start. Nothing, that is, except a car that is not there.

The private disaster of a stolen car was multiplied in this state in 1994 by 38,251.

Dels. James Campbell, Samuel Rosenberg and Maggie McIntosh and Sen. Barbara Hoffman, all from the 42nd District, are sponsoring legislation to address car theft by raising the maximum penalty from a $100 fine and four years in prison to a $1,000 fine and 6 years in prison.

It won't work. Anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that car theft carries no sentence whatsoever in actual practice.

The thief is asked to appear in court, the victim is required to, the thief doesn't show up and this process is repeated twice more before it is dropped.

The victim has lost time from work and probably wages three times. His insurance and his deductible have been increased.

Some victims have had their cars stolen more than once and their insurance dropped. If the car is recovered, as many are, the average damage is $5,000. Meanwhile, the thief, well aware of the odds against being punished, regards the whole system as a joke.

K? It isn't funny. Raising the maximum penalty would not alter

this attitude one whit. In practice, the maximum penalty is rarely, if ever used, imposes no obligation on a judge and does not address the problem in any concrete way. Not spending six years in prison is no worse than not spending four years in prison.

House Bill 497 is just another ineffective, unrealistic Band-Aid which gives the impression of doing something about car theft but has no substance . . .

The extreme reluctance on the part of elected officials to address this problem in a substantial way stems from a focus on sociology not criminology, a sympathy for the so-called deprived person, not the real victim, and a failure to understand the relationship between crime and punishment.

In areas of the country where punishment has increased, car theft is down . . .

Thieves do not need more to laugh at. Maryland's 38,000 car theft victims -- and those in waiting -- should insist that this bill be amended to include a minimum, not maximum, mandatory jail sentence for all car thieves of any age, a removal of the plea bargaining option and a reparation clause that would require thieves to repay the victims for costs incurred . . .

`Elizabeth Ward Nottrodt

Baltimore

Shining Example

An article in The Sun Feb. 9 told of Baltimore's declining population and of the flight of the middle class from the city; we have not yet absorbed the blow of USF&G's move from downtown to Mount Washington, but day after day we read of new threats to the well-being of Baltimore.

In the midst of much of this bad news, please consider that the Maryland Institute stands as a shining example of success in town.

It owns $50 million of meticulously maintained real estate in one of the few middle class neighborhoods downtown.

It employs 250 people. Its 850 students contribute to the intellectual vibrancy of this cultural center of our city. As these young people circulate through the area, their presence acts as a deterrent to urban crime.

Against all financial odds, the institute is now attracting the very top rank of art students from the United States and abroad. Yet, like all colleges and, as we have learned, all organizations of any kind, it is fragile. It has to prove itself each year to a new crop of 17-year-olds deciding where to attend college.

Does the cultural elite of this city and does The Baltimore Sun really want to support a campaign whose only outcome would be to harm one of Baltimore's great remaining assets?

The legacy of the institute predates the legacy of the Lucas collection by 80 years. It would be nice to keep the collection in Baltimore. On the other hand, the lion's share of the collection is, by necessity, out of sight, and museum visitors would never know the difference if it disappeared.

In terms of the relative contributions to the well-being of the city by the Lucas collection and the institute, there is simply no comparison.

The institute needs to convert this asset to endowment in order to maintain its tenuous position at the top. It would appreciate having your support. Baltimore's cultural institutions need to help one another. Why strangle a healthy animal only to cry over its death?

heila K. Riggs

Baltimore

Insurance

Kristin Young's letter of Feb. 10 decrying proposed regulation of the insurance industry is a striking example of the steady stream of disinformation foisted upon the public by the insurance industry.

Ms. Young cites auto theft and insurance fraud as "major reasons for the high cost of auto insurance in Baltimore." Not long ago the insurance industry cited "outrageous" jury verdicts as the reason for these high premiums.

That campaign of disinformation poisoned the minds of prospective jurors, and as a result jury verdicts have declined significantly. Despite this decline, auto insurance premiums have increased.

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