County hopes decal program will thwart car thieves

June 12, 1996|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

The car curfew has gone suburban.

Starting this week, Baltimore County police plan to pull cars over late at night, even if the drivers haven't done anything wrong.

In an effort to combat auto thefts, county police are trying a campaign that has proven popular in Baltimore City. County officials will announce today that residents may obtain free stickers that, when displayed, allow an officer to stop cars between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., even though the drivers commit no traffic offenses.

"This is a prevention program," said Lt. J. R. Powers of Essex Precinct. "If the thieves see the sticker, hopefully they will not steal the car."

The stickers -- a large badge with the state flag in the middle -- will be available through Community Outreach Units at each of the nine precincts.

Police say the stickers are perfect for people who usually don't drive during those hours and worry that their car will be stolen. To get the sticker, a driver must sign a waiver that allows police to use the stickers as probable cause for a traffic stop.

"We just can't make random stops," Powers said. "We have to be able to justify why we stopped someone."

While some legitimate owners may be stopped from time to time, police say that proves the program is working.

If no decal-bearing cars are stolen, police also believe that would signify success.

"We have had one car stolen with the decal here," said Sgt. Charles Dixon of the Baltimore police Auto Theft Unit.

Since Baltimore City began its program in November, 1,022 people have signed up and put the decals on their cars, he said.

"The stickers are becoming more and more visible, and I see them on a lot of cars," Dixon said.

The decals, affixed to vehicles' rear windshields, are difficult to remove, Powers said.

Motor vehicle theft has been a recurring problem in the Baltimore metropolitan area. But since a joint Baltimore County-City Auto Theft Task Force was started last year, the number of thefts has declined.

According to police statistics, car thefts in the county went down from 6,256 in 1994 to 5,377 in 1995. In Baltimore City, 13,603 vehicles were reported stolen in 1994 and 11,210 in 1995, state police statistics show.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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