Thefts From Vehicles Rise in Bethesda Area

By Mariana Minaya
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thefts from vehicles are increasing across Montgomery County, but the number in the Bethesda area has nearly doubled over the past year, according to county police.

In Bethesda Police District 2, which includes surrounding towns, there were 1,062 reported thefts from vehicles from Jan. 1 to Oct. 15, according to police statistics released last week. During the same period last year, there were 577 incidents, nearly half this year's number.

Countywide, there have been 5,092 thefts from Jan. 1 to Oct. 15. There were 4,291 thefts during the same period in 2006 and 3,727 in 2005.

In the Bethesda district, thefts were particularly concentrated in areas that include Chevy Chase, Kensington, Glen Echo, and Somerset, said Officer Melanie Hadley, a police spokeswoman. Although many thefts occur in garages, those incidents dropped since a suspect in more than 100 cases in Bethesda's central business district was arrested this month in Washington. Since the arrest, most thefts have occurred in neighborhoods, said Lt. Thomas Jacocks, deputy District 2 commander.

"It's a large amount of cars all parked together; it's easy to look through the windows" and find expensive items to steal, Hadley said.

Thieves commonly target Global Positioning Systems, iPods, cellphones, purses and satellite radios, Hadley said. According to police statistics, 694 GPS units were stolen from vehicles in the county from Jan. 1 to Oct. 15; in the Bethesda area, 197 GPS units were taken.

"Now we have these high-dollar items," Hadley said. "It's so easy to open a door and take it. You go pawn it or eBay it and get a couple of hundred bucks for it. With all the technology, it's stepped up this type of crime."

Even coins kept in cars make an attractive target, Hadley said. Thieves can make a substantial sum by stealing change from numerous vehicles.

"It's easy cash; people keep plenty of change" in their cars, Hadley said. "It's a quick way to get cash or items for cash."

Of the 170 incidents reported in District 2 during September, 60 percent of the vehicles were unlocked. People shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security, Hadley said.

Somerset, which Mayor Walter Behr said has 413 houses, has encouraged residents to take precautions in recent months to curb the number of incidents. In August, officials hired a part-time off-duty county police officer, primarily to enforce traffic violations at stop signs and to curb thefts, Behr said.

"We remind people regularly in our monthly newsletter to lock their cars -- it's that simple -- and second to remove any things they might have from the car or hide them so they're not visible," Behr said. "It's common sense. We stress that it's important to lock cars even when they're parked in driveways, not just in the street."

One of the police department's most effective tools is public vigilance, Hadley said. Police recommend parking in well-lighted areas, locking all doors and removing valuables from vehicles.

To report suspicious behavior, call 301-279-8000. If a theft is in progress, call 911.

"Our plea to the public is to be our eyes and ears," she said.

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