Tougher bail sought on vehicle break-ins

Officials concerned after several suspects are freed, rearrested

July 17, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Frustrated by lenient bail, Baltimore police and the Downtown Partnership have called on state court officials to keep those who repeatedly break into and steal from cars locked up.

The outcry came after police say five men -- arrested in recent months and charged with stealing more than $130,000 in goods from 200 vehicles -- were back on the streets within days.

If the trend continues, officials warn, it will wipe out recent declines in vehicle break-ins, and spur on thieves who can clean a vehicle of money, cellular phones and handicapped parking permits in 10 seconds.

"We are very concerned by this," said Downtown Partnership Public Safety Director Tom Yeager, a former city police major. "We need to let the judges know the impact this is having on downtown Baltimore."

The downtown area is beset by 10 to 15 vehicle break-ins a day, police say, and more than 15,000 cars citywide are broken into annually.

In the six-month period ending June 26, an estimated 480 fewer vehicle break-ins were reported to Central District police than in the same period last year. That represents a 16 percent decline, police said. The downtown area had 30 fewer vehicle break-ins, or a 5.8 percent decline.

"It is still not as few as I would like it to be," said D. Randy Dull, a sergeant with Central District's major crimes unit, noting he is stepping up his undercover car break-in operations.

`Generally released'

Keith Mathews, administrative judge for Baltimore District Court, said crowded prisons often force bail commissioners to release nonviolent suspects on minimal bail or on their own recognizance. He is sympathetic to police and Downtown Partnership concerns, but does not foresee a change in bail commissioners' rulings.

"When they come in on a minor offense, they are generally released," Mathews said. "We treat downtown crimes the same as if they were on Eastern Avenue."

But Dull said one person can be responsible for hundreds of vehicle break-ins.

Five suspects

Timothy Wendell Smith of the 4200 block of Elderon Ave. was arrested June 29 on larceny charges. Police say he acknowledged stealing $32,671 in merchandise from 22 cars and was released on $2,000 bail.

A few days later, Smith was arrested again after more cars were broken into, police said. He was released on his own recognizance.

Eddie Ray Barksdale, 44, of the 1400 block of McCulloh St. was arrested May 31 after an off-duty city police officer caught a man breaking into her car on East Mount Royal Avenue.

Barksdale later acknowledged stealing $25,476 in merchandise from 65 cars, Dull said. Barksdale was released on bail and on June 6 was arrested again and charged in another vehicle break-in. He was released on his own recognizance.

Last week, Barksdale was arrested and jailed in Baltimore in lieu of $2,500 bail after he failed to appear for a court date.

Jimmie Walker, 38, of the 400 block of Cummings Court was charged with misdemeanor theft June 12. Police said he acknowledged stealing $10,463 in goods from 24 vehicles. He was released on $2,000 bail and awaits a trial date.

Kevin Harrison, 38, of the 1400 block of E. Oliver St. was arrested May 15 on unrelated burglary charges. At his arrest, police said, he acknowledged stealing $25,735 from 40 vehicles. He is in Baltimore City Jail awaiting sentencing on a robbery conviction.

Craig P. Wilkins, 29, of the 3100 block of Garrison Blvd. was charged with misdemeanor theft March 18. Police said he acknowledged stealing $29,987 in merchandise from 53 cars. He was released on $2,500 bail.

None of the suspects could be reached for comment. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Downtown Partnership members are testifying in court and sending informational letters to the state's attorney's office detailing how vehicle break-ins hurt the community.

"On the bright side, the state's attorney's office is beginning to work very closely with us," said Central District Maj. Steven McMahon.

Help from motorists

But officials say they also need motorists' help in the anti-break-in effort.

"When someone leaves a cigarette lighter out of its socket, it alerts the suspects that there may be a radar detector or cellular phone in the car," said Yeager.

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