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Police announce plans to combat car thefts

June 23, 1999|By ERIN HEATH

Related story: Car thefts in county on the rise

In response to an increase in the number of vehicle thefts in Washington County, representatives of local police agencies announced plans Wednesday for combating the problem.

Representatives from Maryland State Police, Washington County Sheriff's Department and Hagerstown City Police attended the press conference on the subject.

Police said they will continue to offer their Watch Your Car late-night car safety program, to local residents.

They also described a new Car Dealer Loss Prevention Program, designed to prevent vehicle theft from car dealerships in the county.

Watch Your Car is a free and voluntary program in which participants place decals on their cars for added police protection at night.

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If an officer sees a car with a Watch Your Car decal on the road between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., he or she can pull over the car and ask the driver for identification.

The idea is that those who sign up for the problem probably will not be driving between those hours, so if the car is on the road, there's a chance it was stolen, said W. Ray Presley, executive director of the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council.

The council consists of 13 members appointed by the governor, and includes representatives of law enforcement, prosecutors' offices, automobile insurers, state government and the public.

Watch Your Car is a national initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. The program, begun in Washington County in August 1998, has attracted about 3,500 participants statewide, Presley said.

"It's a deterrent more than anything," he said. "We go to extremes not only to educate the public but to educate the thief as to what it means."

County residents interested in Watch Your Car can call one of the three participating law enforcement agencies to sign up. Every other person who signs up for the program will receive a free steering wheel lock.

Participants who don't receive a free steering wheel lock will get a discount coupon for the device.

Under the new Car Dealer Loss Prevention Program, officers will be assigned to county dealerships and will do periodic inspections to make sure the dealerships are taking all possible precautions to avoid car theft.

The officers will help new-car dealers make sure they are keeping track of all cars and car keys, doing background checks when hiring employees and taking security measures when letting people test drive cars.

The program is modeled on a similar program in Montgomery County, Md., Presley said.

--Car thefts in county on the rise

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