Patricia Clark knew about the car theft problem in Prince George's County. She even knew people whose cars had been nabbed. But she never thought her big white Caravan with enormous blue letters spelling "GUIDING EYES FOR THE BLIND" would appeal to thieves.
She found out otherwise Wednesday morning when she walked out of her home on Guinevere Road in Glenn Dale and the van was gone.
"You wouldn't think they'd steal from an organization that's trying to do something for someone else," said Clark, regional manager for New York-based Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit group that trains dogs and matches them with blind people.
In addition to the name of the organization, the van is emblazoned with a picture of a woman hugging a dog and with the Web site address, www.guidingeyes.org.
The van was recovered yesterday not far from her home, but its contents -- about $1,000 in crates, collars, leashes, promotional material and other equipment -- were gone. Clark went to pick up the van at an impound lot yesterday and is still assessing the damage.
"I'm learning more and about the blight we have in our community," said Clark, 59, who is retired from the U.S. Army.
Last year, about 18,500 cars were stolen in Prince George's, more than in the rest of the state combined and more than the state of Virginia.
So far this year, car thefts have decreased by 9 percent, compared with this time last year. But 8,014 cars have been stolen between January and mid-July this year. Last year, the number was 8,805.
Police attribute the decline to several initiatives, including a task force and an education campaign. Car thefts are one of the few crimes declining in the county. All violent crimes are on the increase this year, including carjackings, which have jumped by almost 48 percent from this time last year.
Clark said even though the numbers of car thefts are dropping in the county, there are still many thousands of victims out there. "Yesterday, I was really upset," she said. "Now I'm to the point of anger."