MCPD Auto Theft Unit Supervisor Discusses Germantown Area Auto Thefts
As the Germantown Pulse reported earlier this month, there has been a sharp rise in auto thefts in the Germantown/Clarksburg area over the last six months, with 19 vehicles being stolen in December alone. Already this month, there have been eight vehicles stolen in the 5th-District through January 23, based on information from DataMongomery.org.
The Germantown Pulse spoke to Sgt. M. Fergus Sugrue, the supervisor of the Montgomery County Police Department’s Auto Theft Unit about the recent uptick in auto thefts in the Germantown area.
Sgt. Sugrue’s message was both reassuring and troubling. He said that while there has been an increase in stolen vehicles in the area, it is not because a gang of professional car thieves has moved into the area and is stealing cars, but rather it is groups of young criminals looking to make a quick score doing misdemeanor theft-from-autos who upgrade to felony auto theft.
“It is not an organized gang of car thieves,” said Sugrue. “These are not professional car thieves stealing cars for parts, or to be re-plating, or re-tagging the vehicles.” A process of stripping the Vehicle Identification Number and shipping the car out of state to be sold. “We have no information that any of the vehicles stolen in the last six- to eight-months are being re-plated.”
“Hands down,” said Sugrue, “the largest reason for the increase in auto theft is keys left in vehicles.” He said there were a couple of reasons for this, the first being it has become much harder over the last 15- to 20-years to steal a vehicle without a key. “Cars used to be pretty easy to steal, and pressure from the insurance industry and citizens groups forced the industry to change that. Especially since cars have become computerized, it has become harder to steal a car. Now, it is almost impossible to steal a car without either the key or a tow truck.”
He said the vast majority of cars that are being stolen in the Germantown area—and throughout Montgomery County– are being stolen using a key that is left inside the vehicle.
He said sometimes it is folks who park more than one vehicle in a driveway or garage and need to often jockey the cars around depending on which car is going out first or last in the morning. “Very often a husband will leave a spare key in the wife’s car, and she will leave her spare key in his car in an effort to make jockeying the car around easier. The problem then becomes somebody leaves a door unlocked, and we end up with a scenario where we have two cars stolen from the same driveway,” he said.
Another way cars are stolen, according to Surgue, is through the use of the valet key and often drivers may not know it exists.
Valet keys are often paired with the driver's key when a vehicle is purchased. If the valet key is not handed with the driver's key it may be in one of two locations. The first place to check is in the vehicle's owner manual as the key may be stuck inside. Another place to check is inside the vehicle's emergency tool kit located in the trunk.
“Most people know that they have two keys,” said Surgue, “but many don’t know they have a valet key. Officers will ask victims of car theft if they know where their valet key is and the officers will often get an,‘Oh crap’ look from the victim or the victim have no idea what the officers are talking about.”
He also said the new cars that have push button ignitions that are connected wirelessly to key-fobs which need to be in the vehicle to allow for the ignition to activate. “Sometimes a person will inadvertently leave the fob inside the car, and then a theft just has to get in the car and push the button and off they go,” he said.
“If I can impart one thing to people it is, please, please, PLEASE, take your keys out of your cars,” said Sugrue. “Do not leave keys in cars.”
The combination of valet keys, or keys and fobs being inadvertently or intentionally left in cars and roving groups of criminals looking to steal belongings from unlocked vehicles is the reason for the uptick in auto theft in the Germantown area, said Sugrue.
Sugrue tells the story of a group of six individuals being arrested in a stolen car, where MCPD has a video of the vehicle that the six people were arrested in going into a neighborhood, five people got out of the car and fanned out in the neighborhood and started checking for unlocked car doors. “Five people in one n