Auto decals target theft Police would stop cars with stickers from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

Voluntary program

Greenbelt, 5 counties to join roster of participants

August 18, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

In a stepped-up effort to combat automobile theft, officials announced yesterday an expanded program that doesn't rely on blaring alarms or tracking devices -- just a small windshield decal.

Motorists in areas troubled by thefts would voluntarily apply stickers to their cars, with the understanding that they don't drive between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. If police spot a stickered car being driven during those hours, they'll pull it over to see if it is stolen.

"Most are not reported stolen until the next morning," said Sgt. George Belleville, who heads the Howard County police auto theft unit. "By then, it has been gone for hours."

Belleville said he will put a sticker on his 1990 Honda Accord.

Police in four jurisdictions -- Annapolis, Baltimore and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties -- run sticker programs. Six more will participate: Greenbelt and Charles, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Police said 94 percent of auto thefts in Maryland occur in those areas. But the overall trend is down, with 14 percent fewer thefts reported in the first three months of this year and a 15 percent drop in 1997, from 36,076 vehicles in 1996 to 30,653.

About 7,000 cars in Maryland have the stickers, and only one has been reported stolen, officials say.

The Maryland Department of Transportation also will post 1,000 signs at state parking lots, airports and metro stations warning drivers to take their keys and lock their cars.

Police say those simple measures are the best way to keep cars from being stolen.

The stickers, which are tamper-resistant, are free, and police register motorists in a data base.

Yesterday, at a news conference at an Interstate 95 rest stop in Laurel, a team of mechanics stripped a car into its more valuable parts in minutes, to demonstrate how easily it can be done. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said she hoped the program would spread elsewhere in Maryland. Eleven states have similar programs.

"It's just devastating," Townsend said. "The temptation to steal and strip a car is overwhelming."

W. Ray Presley, executive director of the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council, said the program was designed to stop the high number of thefts during early hours, when teen-agers and others steal cars for joy rides and to commit other crimes.

Presley said 73 precent of stolen cars and trucks are recovered.

The council, created under 1994 legislation, is funding the decal initiative.

Critics say the program could cause hassles for those legitimately borrowing others' cars and possibly violate civil liberties.

But officials rejected those concerns.

"It's a volunteer program," said Presley. "I think that concern is a nonissue."

Pub Date: 8/18/98

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