Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

A new direction for thieves: GPS devices

Police recommend using microfiber cloths to eliminate suction cup marks on dashboards

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Thieves are on the hunt for electronic devices in automobiles, and Montgomery County Police are alerting the public about the number of cars that are being broken into as a result.

From June 1 to Aug. 10, nearly 300 global positioning systems (GPS) units were stolen from automobiles across Montgomery County, according to a news release from county police.

While the Bethesda district has experienced almost double the thefts of other districts, thieves have targeted parking garages during the daytime and residential areas in the evening throughout Montgomery County, said Officer Melanie Hadley, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County Police.

In eastern Montgomery County, according to recent online crime reports, GPS devices were stolen on July 10 from Mt. Pisgah Road; July 16 from Elton Road and New Hampshire Avenue; July 27 from Old Columbia Pike, Tourmaline Court and Stewart Lane; July 25 from Elton Road and Baroque Road; July 27 from Elton Road and Insley Street; Aug. 10 from Broadbirch Drive and Aug. 11 from the 11200 block of New Hampshire Avenue.

‘‘[Thefts] have been unusually frequent. Since the [GPS] units have been so easily accessible for the public to buy, a lot of people are purchasing them and putting them in their vehicles since they are a nice convenient mechanism,” Hadley said. ‘‘Since some of them are high-priced devices, they are targeted by thieves.”

Hadley said thieves can spot the telltale suction cup marks on the windshield and dashboard, and will break into a vehicle even if the device is out of sight.

To eliminate the suction cup marks and help prevent automobile break-ins, the department gave away 1,200 microfiber cloths at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair.

Microfiber cloths are reusable, do not require chemical cleaners to work and can be washed. While microfiber cloths are best, police said, motorists are advised to wipe off the marks with any type of cloth.

Other frequently stolen items include iPods, cell phones, satellite radios, purses, cash and credit cards.

Insurance companies also have noticed an increase in ‘‘partial” car theft, which includes theft from vehicles, due to a rising number of claims. ‘‘Year to date in July, State Farm had 355 claims for partial theft from vehicles. For the same month to date in 2006, we had 305, so there has been an increase,” said Maria Jackson, a public relations representative for State Farm Insurance. These thefts included electronics such as GPS devices and stereos, Jackson said.

The Forest Estates Community in Silver Spring, bordered by Georgia Avenue to the west, Dennis Avenue to the north, Sanford Road to the south, and Sligo Creek Park to the east, has been among the targets. ‘‘We have had a rash of car break-ins and there was a report of a laptop being stolen and some cell phones,” said Shawn Marie Jarosz, president of Forest Estates Community Association.

‘‘Each neighbor has reported each case individually and everything was sent as a group report to our county liaison officer. Then we requested increased patrol and are launching a neighborhood watch,” Jarosz said.