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Sticker helps cops fight car thieves

October 05, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Gordon Shafer just bought a new Ford Escort and he has a new weapon to protect it from theft.

Last month, Shafer became one of the first Washington County residents to sign up for a new anti-theft program.

Dubbed "Watch Your Car," the seven-week-old program allows car owners to give police the right to pull over their vehicles early in the morning for any reason.

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This gives police officers a fighting chance to catch car thieves and gives would-be crooks something else to think about before they swipe a car in the first place, according to advocates of the program.

"I really think this is outstanding," said Shafer, who lives in Halfway. "I just bought a new car It sits out there every night and there's no way to protect it, really.

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"I'd be happy to know the car's being looked after," he said.

State officials launched the program on Aug. 17 after winning a $126,000 federal grant to implement it.

Vehicle owners can sign up at the Washington County Sheriff's Department or the Maryland State Police barracks. Owners fill out a form and police place decals on the front and back of the car.

The stickers allow police to pull over the vehicle if it is on the road between 1 and 5 a.m. - when the majority of car thefts occur - said W. Ray Presley, executive director of the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council.

Presley said the initiative is modeled after similar programs across the country.

Presley said some people, such as those who frequent bars, probably will be leery about attracting the attention of police officers. However, he predicted people who are usually in bed by 1 a.m. will love the extra protection.

"The senior citizens are attracted to it because they aren't usually out at that time," he said.

Presley said between 300 and 400 car owners have signed up so far, mostly in metropolitan areas.

"We had a flood of them to start with, but now it's tapered off," he said.

Presley said state officials are confident of reaching their goal of 50,000 people within the first two years. He said state police and most of the state's large police departments are participating.

The next step is to involve the smaller of the state's approximately 100 police agencies.

In Washington County, where 319 vehicles were stolen last year, the sheriff's department recently joined the effort.

"We're just now getting it introduced to the public," said James D. Holsinger, who is in the department's crime prevention unit.

Holsinger said the "Watch Your Car" program might be as valuable as a deterrent as it is in catching thieves.

"I think it's going to be effective in a lot of different ways," he said. "You're doing something that can't be measured. You can't determine what you've prevented."

Shafer, 63, said he has never been a victim of crime, although several of his close friends have been. He said he will rest easier knowing his car has a bright decal warding off thieves.

"Prevention is the greatest thing in the world," he said.

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