Car owners learn to stop thieves Theft prevention group offers demonstrations, tips on how to protect vehicles

October 26, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Last year, a car was stolen every 14 minutes in Maryland -- a statistic to which Brenda Latney-Lee can painfully attest.

Latney-Lee, whose car was stolen three times, was one of nearly 50 people who stood in line yesterday at Edmondson Village Shopping Center seeking a free steering wheel lock to prevent a fourth theft.

"It makes me irritated," she said of the thefts of her 1985 Chevrolet Spectrum. "I work real hard to get what I got, and somebody else takes it and destroys it."

The anti-theft devices were distributed on the last day of Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Week, part of national crime prevention month. Eight state and local anti-crime groups paid for the devices, and representatives of the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council offered ways to prevent vehicle theft.

Last year, 36,066 vehicles were stolen in Maryland, according to the council. Losses from vehicle thefts totaled $230 million in Maryland and $9 billion nationwide last year, said Ray Presley, executive director of the council.

Council officials offered demonstrations, exhibits and giveaways to help curb vehicle theft. They staged a break-in of a Toyota Tercel, showed how to use steering wheel and ignition locks, and etched vehicle identification numbers on car windows at no cost. It normally costs about $35.

"It's easy to steal cars here," said Baltimore County police Sgt. Robert Jagoe, who added that his Regional Auto Theft Team has succeeded in arresting car thieves, most of whom are juveniles. "We finally see people going to jail for auto theft."

The state theft prevention council, formed under 1994 legislation in response to soaring vehicle thefts, has published recommendations to help prevent vehicle theft. Among them are simple things such as removing keys from the car, locking the doors and hiding or removing valuables.

"We want to slow [the thief] down, make it difficult," Presley said. "In this area, they steal for transportation, for money, to commit other crimes in the stolen vehicle."

Statistics show that in 1995, the recovery rate for stolen vehicles in Maryland was 68 percent.

Jagoe said the cars stolen most often in Baltimore are Honda Accords and Dodge Caravans -- mainly because they are so easy to break into.

"You can use a butter knife to pop the ignition of a Caravan and have the whole thing stolen in 40 seconds," he said.

Jagoe said vehicle thefts in Maryland have decreased since 1994, a decline that represents $13.9 million in property loss savings and 2,139 vehicles.

That was of little comfort to Lavoid Hairston, a Catonsville resident who has twice been a victim of auto theft. "It bothers me," he said of the crimes. "I felt terrible and couldn't get to work. Then I had a lot of hassles with my insurance company."

Said Sherron Jacobs, whose Jeep Grand Cherokee was stolen at her house in Walbrook Junction: "Once it was repaired, it never worked the same again -- and I've had family members who have had a lot of cars stolen. It devastated me."

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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