Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mid-county hit hard by car break-ins

GPS, electronics were targeted items from 51 vehicles in less than two weeks

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A rash of thefts from automobiles in central Montgomery County does not represent a greater trend, police and residents say, but it does reinforce the need for a greater focus on automobile security.

There were 51 reported thefts from vehicles between June 22 and July 2 in Montgomery County Police’s Fourth District, compared to 50 combined between June 2 and June 21, according to crime summaries released by police. The Fourth District includes parts of Wheaton, Glenmont, Olney, Aspen Hill and Silver Spring.

Capt. Nancy Demme, the commander of the Fourth District, said car break-ins are generally ‘‘crimes of opportunity” and that large crime numbers can often be attributed to repeat offenders.

‘‘[Criminals] will walk the street pulling every door,” Demme said. ‘‘If it’s open and there is something in there, you take it and go.”

Police arrested two people in early June suspected in several break-ins, Demme said. Demme said police arrested a man believed to be responsible for numerous thefts from autos and more than 40 burglaries in the L1 and J1 beat, which cover parts of Colesville and Wheaton. Police believe the juvenile is responsible for more than 12 burglaries and numerous thefts from autos in the J1 beat.

The late-June incidents will have to be examined by a crime analyst, Demme said, but generally one person or group is often responsible for multiple incidents, especially those that are similar in time, location or execution.

For instance, Demme said judging by the information surrounding two incidents in which airbags were stolen from vehicles, a connection is likely. One occurred between 7 p.m. June 23 and 10:30 a.m. June 24 in the 13500 block of Georgia Avenue, and the other between 10 p.m. June 23 and 8 a.m. June 24 in the 2900 block of Hewitt Avenue.

However, Demme said most criminals target visible electronics or valuables. She said most vehicle break-ins and thefts can be prevented by simply locking doors and hiding valuables.

Police have launched a campaign in which officers walk around heavily populated areas such as shopping centers or gyms and put yellow and blue cards on vehicles that have items in sight. The notes tell owners they should conceal their valuables. Officers have also distributed towels to residents so they can remove the adhesive mark on their windshield indicating a portable global positioning system might be inside.

Glenmont resident Al Eisner had four incidents within a few blocks of his Farnell Drive home, three of which came during June 28 and 29. Eisner, who has lived in the Wheaton area for 37 years, said he has alarm systems on both his cars and one has a device that alerts police if the car is stolen.

‘‘When we first moved in, you could leave your house and leave the door unlocked and not have to worry about it because everybody knew everybody,” he said. ‘‘Those days are gone.”

Eisner’s neighbor Bogdan Kipling said he had his cars vandalized a year ago as part of a rash of incidents in the neighborhood, but police have done a good job limiting the problems since.

‘‘It’s easy to interpret an act of maybe of a couple of punks ... and work yourself up into believing this is a crime wave,” he said. ‘‘I don’t live in fear.”

In the K2 beat where Eisner and Kipling live, there were 10 thefts from vehicles and five auto thefts between June 22 and July 2. The beat is bordered by Norbeck Road to the north, Georgia Avenue to the east, Veirs Mill Road to the west and Randolph Road to the south.

Richard Kauffunger, a Layhill resident, said he has experienced two break-ins to his car in the past 15 years. Layhill is part of the K1 beat for police, which experienced 13 thefts from vehicles between June 22 and July 2.

‘‘When I take my dog out late at night, I make sure my car is locked,” said Kauffunger, who said he was not aware of the recent upsurge in crime. ‘‘[Criminals] are not breaking in. They are just going around and opening doors.”

In the Olney area – the Fourth District’s J2 beat – there were six thefts from vehicles. Most of the incidents occurred off Georgia Avenue between Route 108 and Brookeville Road.

Greater Olney Civic Association President Sharon Dooley said she had heard complaints of car break-ins in May, prompting a town hall meeting on public safety with police, but crime had not been a problem lately.

‘‘Olney is a low-crime area, but we would be concerned if there was an uptick in crime,” she said.

Just off New Hampshire Avenue between Briggs Chaney and Bonifant roads, there were three break-ins between 10 p.m. June 27 and 9 a.m. June 29. That area is part of the J1 beat, which experienced 12 thefts from auto between June 22 and July 2.

Robert Bartol, a liaison to the police for the Greater Colesville Citizens Association, said he had heard of an increase in the areas surrounding where the association serves, but ‘‘nothing I would consider a crime wave.”

But he said he still works to provide Colesville residents with information on how to prevent crime and alert police.

‘‘The car issue is very important because that can happen anywhere,” he said.