City police promote a curfew for autos Anti-theft plan offers big sticker allowing police to stop cars

November 21, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Police Department wants a curfew for cars.

In a new effort to combat auto thefts, police officials are offering free stickers that, when displayed, allow officers to pull over vehicles between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., even if the driver does nothing wrong.

Here's how it works: If you normally don't drive those hours and fear possible theft, get a sticker to put in the rear window. Police may stop the car when driven during the designated hours.

The stickers, a large badge with the state flag in the middle along with the name of the initiative -- Stop Thief Owner Protected (STOP) -- are available in the nine city police districts. They are difficult to remove.

While legitimate owners may be stopped from time to time, the pamphlet describing the program says the inconvenience "would serve to demonstrate that the program is effective."

Investigators say the program will deter criminals who may be less likely to steal a car knowing it is flagged for police protection. And if the car is stolen, police say, the program will help them catch the thieves.

"We see this as a way that we can enlist good citizens and law-abiding people in helping us decrease auto theft," Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said at a news conference yesterday.

The program is funded through a $140,000 state grant from the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council. The money will fund a detective and a data processor.

Departments using similar programs include the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Philadelphia Police Department.

"It's pretty active," said Cpl. Tom Quinn of the Philadelphia department. "A lot of people use it. It seems to be working very well."

The Texas Department of Public Safety has 20,643 cars enrolled in its sticker program, called Help End Auto Theft (HEAT).

"It's a really solid program," said Jay Rougeau, the Texas project coordinator, who added that his program may expand for parents who don't want their children driving after a certain hour.

However, Philadelphia and Texas do not monitor the number of sticker-adorned cars stolen or recovered. Mr. Rougeau urged Baltimore to track the numbers.

Car theft has been a recurring problem for Baltimore and surrounding counties. But initiatives such as a joint Baltimore County-City Auto Theft Task Force started last year have helped.

In Baltimore, the number of cars reported stolen in the first nine months of this year, 8,309, dropped 20 percent since the same time period last year, when 10,492 were reported stolen. More than 2,200 people have been arrested since January, about half of them juveniles. Statewide, 38,194 cars were stolen in 1994.

About 265,000 vehicles are registered in Baltimore. Mr. Frazier said the five most frequently stolen cars are the Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, Ford Mustang and Toyota Camry.

"If you have one of these five types of vehicles, I would suggest you join with us and put these stickers in the back of your car," Mr. Frazier said.

Other area police departments may join the city's effort.

Deterrence is a key to making the program work. An accompanying pamphlet says "studies have shown that car thieves decide which cars to steal based on ease of theft, not just on the value."

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