- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 9, 2004

Hundreds of motorists trying to avoid becoming the District’s next car-theft victims created a mile-long traffic jam yesterday through Northeast neighborhoods along Benning Road.

They arrived for the Metropolitan Police Department’s Auto Theft Education Day — and to get a free steering-wheel lock.

“We have very, very high auto theft in Ward 7 and Ward 8,” said Alton M. Bigelow, a Metropolitan Police Department inspector, who with other officers distributed the free locks to motorists from those wards or who lived in neighborhoods covered by police in the department’s 6th and 7th districts. Each motorist had to have a valid D.C. vehicle registration.

Districts 6 and 7 are the only ones east of the Anacostia River.

Though the number of car thefts around the city has decreased slightly compared with last year, District 6 still has the most, with 1,465 through early September, according to preliminary police reports. District 7 has had 661 thefts.

“They stole mine,” Alfretta Whiting, 74, said from the passenger seat of a car driven by her husband, Addison. The couple waited in line for nearly two hours yesterday for a free lock.

Mr. Whiting, 77, said the thieves snatched his wife’s 1998 Chrysler several years ago from in front of their home on Dubois Place SE.

“There have been a lot of cars stolen in the area,” he said.

Mr. Whiting said he’s not sure why they took the car, because neighbors later found it with a blown tire parked down the street.

The total number of car thefts last year in the city was 9,549, an increase from 9,168 in 2002. Police said the number of thefts has decreased slightly this year after increasing every year since 1998, when the citywide total was 6,501.

The 6th District has the most car thefts. But the 1st, 3rd and 5th districts — covering Southeast on the west side of the Anacostia River, downtown and much of Northeast on the west side of the river — also rank high. More than 900 vehicles have been stolen in each of the districts so far this year.

Auto theft continues to be the No. 1 property crime in the country and costs consumers and insurance companies an estimated $7.5 billion in losses each year.

Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords remain the most stolen vehicles, but minivans and sport utility vehicles are increasingly popular targets, according to recent reports.

One of the biggest concerns among D.C. residents and officials is juveniles stealing vehicles, then driving them at high speeds and crashing, sometimes with fatal consequences.

“We have experienced a lot of kiddy-car thieves,” Mr. Bigelow said.

Among the worst was an accident in July in which a 12-year-old driving a stolen van was charged with killing a man on a mop-ed in Southeast. And a 16-year-old driving a stolen car in June was charged with the fatal hit-and-run of an elderly woman in Northeast.

Almost 3,000 juveniles were arrested for unauthorized vehicle use from Jan. 1, 2000, to March 12, 2004, Metropolitan Police spokesman Kenny Bryson said this summer. He also said some of those arrested had been charged more than six times.

American Skyline Insurance Co. put up half of a $32,000 donation for the locks given away yesterday at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington in the 4000 block of Benning Road NE.

Enterprise Rent-a-Car also donated locks through a grant from the Maryland-D.C. Anti-Car Theft Committee, a group of auto insurance carriers in Maryland and the District.

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