Funding approved to combat auto thefts Balto. Co. Council OKs $500,000 for task force

July 02, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Keeping the heat on auto thieves, the Baltimore County Council voted last night in favor of spending more than $500,000 in state money to continue funding for prosecutors and special police enforcement.

Report shows drop in thefts

The vote came hours after the release of first-quarter crime statistics by the county police showing a 4.5 percent decrease in auto theft, despite an overall increase in crime. The report marked the fifth consecutive quarter in which auto thefts have declined.

Increased enforcement through a city-county auto-theft task force as well as stiffer penalties for thieves -- such as the 16 years imposed on Baltimore teen-ager Odis Green last year for cases in the city and county -- were cited as factors.

Green, who led a gang of thieves operating in Green Spring Valley, is one of 26 offenders serving terms of five years or more for stealing vehicles in the county, authorities said.

Publicity raised awareness

Until last year, said Peter T. McDowell, a county prosecutor assigned exclusively to vehicle-theft cases, many judges treated vehicle theft as a minor crime and rarely imposed jail time. Now it's a felony, and publicity has raised awareness about the problem.

The point, he and deputy county prosecutor Sue Schenning said, is that the worst offenders -- people who steal dozens of cars a year -- are slowly being taken off the streets.

1,256 thefts in 3 months

Although the number of incidents has been declining, auto theft remains a problem. Statistics show that thieves made off with 1,256 vehicles in the county between Jan. 1 and March 31 -- and that 80 percent of the vehicles were recovered.

Also, despite the countywide decline, auto theft increased in five precincts, most notably Cockeysville with a jump of 34 percent. Declines were noted in Woodlawn, Wilkens, White Marsh and Parkville.

Task force funding extended

The council vote extended funding for a third year for prosecutors and the 16-member city-county auto theft task force. It includes $83,593 for salaries of McDowell and a paralegal, $452,000 to operate two programs intended to analyze and prevent thefts and crack down on offenders, and $64,760 to rent older cars used by undercover officers.

In addition, the county provides in-kind contributions -- including the work of 16 police officers -- valued at $1.4 million.

"I'm happy that we're getting it," Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, said of the state funding. "My district has the largest number of car thefts in the county. It's a big issue."

Funds' future uncertain

But it could be the last year for state funding to address the problem. Without General Assembly action next year to allocate more money, the city and county will have to decide whether to pay for the task force's operation themselves.

In other action, the council:

* Approved a state-funded tax break program for people who buy homes in the greater Hillendale neighborhood east of Loch Raven Boulevard near the city line. The pilot program is intended to boost homeownership and neighborhood stability.

* Voted to add plans to preserve greater Kingsville, revitalize the southeastern county and rejuvenate Essex-Middle River to the county's Master Plan, making them official county policy.

* Approved expanded programs at the Young Family Support Center in Essex.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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