THE MASS TRANSIT Administration has received some deserved criticism for not providing more security at the two parking lots adjacent to the Owings Mills Metro station following a rash of car thefts and break-ins this summer.
But police say many of the commuters may be inadvertently making it easier for the thieves and that simple precautions can make their vehicles less vulnerable.
As the station with largest number of cars -- its parking lots are used by 4,500 daily riders -- Owings Mills has always experienced more incidents than other Metro stops. Last year, there were 104 reports of theft, break-ins or vandalism compared with 17 at Reisterstown Plaza, for example.
In June and July, the number of incidents at Owings Mills suddenly escalated, alarming Metro patrons. In response, the MTA increased security at the station's parking lots by assigning a patrol car and two bicycle patrol officers to monitor the area during the work day.
Also as part of this effort, the MTA began a "Vehicle Security Assessment Program." When transit police see an unlocked car on an MTA parking lot or spot valuables in plain view, a letter is sent to the car's owner about simple security measures.
In the month since this education effort began, MTA police have sent out 128 letters. Many of them went to commuters who left wallets, clothing, watches, cell phones, computers and other valuables where they were easily visible. Police even saw a car with a gold bracelet sitting on the dashboard.
The combination of intensified security and the educational campaign is beginning to pay off.
Reports of trouble have dropped in recent weeks. But even the most vigilant police presence cannot prevent thievery if Metro riders don't also take rudimentary precautions to safeguard their cars and possessions.