Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Thefts from autos continue to trouble Bethesda police

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Drivers who parked in the 2nd Montgomery County Police District — especially in downtown Bethesda — lost twice as many belongings to vehicle break-ins this year as anywhere else in the county, according to police.

Thefts from vehicles spiked in Bethesda earlier this year, with thieves showing a particular fondness for global positioning systems. The trend has continued despite increased patrolling by Montgomery County Police Department 2nd District officers.

The looting is preventable, police said.

‘‘We’re asking people when you do remove your GPS device from the window, clean the window,” said Capt. Russell E. Hamill, commander of the 2nd District. ‘‘Simple matters such as not leaving valuable property in your car, and locking your car even when it’s in your driveway” can decrease the likelihood of a break-in.

Hamill said the 2nd District has responded by upping its patrol patterns in parking lots and garages, and in residential areas. Police routinely patrol garages outside of their normal patrol patterns, Hamill said. Police rely on the public to report suspicious activity, and people often wait a full day to call police, making it harder to follow up on a crime, he said.

Police made a triple arrest Thursday morning, after officers watched three juvenile male suspects acting suspiciously and then either breaking into, or attempting to break into, a number of cars in Bethesda. The suspects’ break-in method illustrated a factor in the trend, Hamill said.

‘‘The officers saw the suspects go car to car to car, just pulling on the door handles. The ones they went in were the doors that were opened,” Hamill said.

More than 165 items have been stolen from vehicles in the 2nd District since the beginning of the year, police said. Dozens of GPS devices have been stolen. GPS units were identified as theft targets in a grouping of more than 100 auto break-ins since the beginning of the year, according to police records.

The Bethesda-Chevy Chase area leads the county in larcenies from vehicles, with 25 such crimes occurring during the first week of August.

The burglaries are concentrated mostly in parking garages and lots, both public and residential. Thieves have absconded with global positioning systems, cash, cellular phones, stereos and speakers. One thief made away with a 42-inch LCD television.

According to weekly police records, break-ins occur during day and night. Police said they are conducting crime analyses on a regular basis to target troubled areas in the district, and they work with neighboring police departments when necessary to catch suspects.