The theft of automobiles in the Germantown/Clarksburg area reached its highest numbers since 2012, with most of the thefts occurring in the last six months.
In 2016, there were 115 vehicle thefts reported in the Montgomery County Police Department’s 5th District-Germantown, according to statistics from dataMontomery.org. Between July 1 and December 31, 2016, Germantown has experienced 84 vehicle thefts, which is 31 more auto thefts than the 53 reported all of 2015 and 15 more than in all of 2014. In the first six months of 2016, the 5th District reported just 31 auto thefts.
“The auto theft section has been working in concert with 5D to try and curb this spike,” said MCPD spokesman Rick Goodale. “The auto theft section has a dedicated detective that works with each district.
The Germantown area experienced 19 vehicle thefts in December alone, and in the first nine days of 2017, there has already been three auto thefts in Germantown, according to dataMontgomery.org. The three most recent auto thefts have taken place in different locations in Germantown. The first vehicle was stolen on Wednesday, Jan. 4 from a commercial parking lot in the in the 19800 block of Frederick Road. The next stolen vehicle of the new year was taken on Thursday, Jan. 5 from the 18500 block of the residential block of Mateny Road. The most recent auto theft occurred on Monday, Jan. 9 in the 21200 block of Lake Spray Terrace in Germantown.
For the month of December, the 5th District led the County in auto theft with 19 stolen vehicles. The 4th District – Wheaton had 15 stolen autos in December. The 6th District – Montgomery Village had 12 stolen autos in December. The 3rd District in Silver Spring had 13 stolen autos, while the 2nd District – Bethesda had just seven stolen autos in December, and the 1st District in Rockville had just one stolen vehicle in the month of December.
Police say that one of the reasons for the increase stems from one of the most prevalent crimes in Germantown, and Montgomery County – Theft From Auto. Many residents are leaving the vehicles unlocked and leaving valuables in their vehicles overnight.
Police say that very often, a small pack of thieves will target a neighborhood or street and just attempt to open car doors and rifle through vehicles for valuables. And sometimes, according to a number of police officers the Germantown Pulse spoke with, thieves will find the key or ignition fob for the vehicle they are searching which increase the crime from theft from auto to stolen vehicle. Police said that very often these thieves are young people who will take the vehicles for a joy ride.
“We have seen auto thefts in this area where the vehicles are being stolen because people are leaving keys in the vehicle,” said Goodale. “These start as theft from autos by the suspects, and it turns into an auto theft when the keys are found. We have made multiple arrests of suspects, and they are coming to that area because the people continue to leave keys in the vehicles.”
“Another problem,” said Goodale, “is that people believe that because they live in certain neighborhoods, they believe that they are exempt from being victims of crimes. A lot of these crimes are crimes of opportunity because people become more relaxed in their awareness and security bad guys take advantage of it. Criminals tend to go where people have nice things. If you drive through any neighborhood late at night, how many garage doors will you find open? And people will often leave their car keys hanging on a peg in their garage. All a bad guy has to do is walk into the garage and pull the key off the peg, get in the car and go.”
Indeed, in December police reported that 2000 Honda Odyssey was stolen in the 25500 block of Butterfield Way in Damascus between approximately 2:00 am and 9:00 am on Sunday, Dec. 4. Police said that a key was reported to have been left inside the vehicle.
MCPD said that three vehicles were stolen from three separate locations between December 7 and December 10 and one had a key in the vehicle. The first was stolen from the 22200 block of Trentworth Way in Clarksburg between approximately 10:00 pm on December 7 and approximately 7:00 am on December 8.
A second vehicle was stolen from the 12400 block of Thorngate Lane in Boyds in the early morning hours of December 10.
And the third vehicle was stolen from the 23100 block of Newcut Road in Clarksburg in the early morning hours of December 10. Police say that a spare key was left inside the vehicle.
Another vehicle was stolen, and a theft from vehicle occurred at the same residence in the 10400 block of Damascus Park Lane between approximately 12:15 am and approximately 10:00 am on December 11. Police said a spare key left in one vehicle used to steal the other vehicle in the driveway; cash was taken. The stolen vehicle was recovered on December 11.
Goodale said that many police departments sometimes see a spike in stolen cars in the winter because people are leaving their cars running and unattended while they run into a shop or get ready to drive to work.
“We put out reminders all the time at this time of year that is against the law to leave your car running and unattended, it is a great way to have your car stolen. Based on the time of year, we do see an increase in auto theft as a result of people leaving their car running. As a police officer, it is infuriating to see that. We will cite people for doing so, and it is a pretty hefty fine.”
Police say that the increase is not the result of movement of resources. “We have no knowledge of any personnel or assets being taken away that would account for this. I know that the auto theft unit has the same amount of personnel as in previous years,” said Goodale.
The spike in stolen vehicles comes after two years where vehicle theft was drastically down. In 2015, MCPD reported just 53 stolen vehicles in the Germantown/Clarksburg area, which was down from 69 reported in 2015. In 2013, MCPD reported 103 stolen vehicles in the 5th District. The Germantown area experienced 129 stolen vehicles in 2012.
MCPD has used a variety of measures to try and combat this problem, said Goodale. “We have used different sources to try and educate people as to why they should not leave their keys in the car.” Goodale said the MCPD has been doing radio and television interviews to get the word out about how not to become a victim of auto theft. “In addition to prevention measures, patrol and investigative units have been proactive in locating suspects, securing physical evidence when a vehicle is located, and placing charges against these suspects.”
Staged Photos by Germantown Pulse.