Council targets vehicle thefts

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A D.C. Council member has proposed legislation that would help the Metropolitan Police reduce car thefts.

“We all pay for car theft in higher insurance premiums or extra security systems people get on their cars,” said council member Phil Mendelson, the measure’s backer.

Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat who chairs the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, is scheduled today to hear testimony on a bill that would create a commission to study vehicle-theft prevention and work with police to start community anti-theft programs.

The commission would comprise the police chief; the commissioner of the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking; the director of the Department of Motor Vehicles; and six mayoral appointees. Its budget would be funded by fines issued to uninsured motorists and a $1 increase in the vehicle registration fee and would be contingent on funds being raised.

Since 1993, the number of stolen cars peaked at 10,192 in 1995 and dropped as low as 6,501 in 1998, according to crime data reported to the FBI. There were 7,057 car thefts in the District last year, down from 7,467 in 2005.

As of yesterday, preliminary police statistics indicated 2,264 cars had been stolen in the District this year, compared with 2,947 at the same time last year.

D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking Director Thomas E. Hampton said he supports the bill as a way to help protect residents and insurance companies.

“If they don’t have higher losses, they won’t have higher rates,” he said. “The only way to keep premiums down is to keep claims down.”

Mr. Hampton said his office has fielded complaints from residents whose home insurance rates increased after stolen cars, often driven by juveniles, crashed on their property or hit their homes.

Maryland has an auto-theft prevention council, which coordinates anti-theft programs among police and community groups statewide.

“Vehicle theft is highly mobile and a multi-jurisdictional problem,” said W. Ray Presley, executive director of the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council. Mr. Presley is scheduled to testify in favor of the bill today. “You have to reach out with that broad paintbrush.”

The legislation comes weeks after 14 persons were indicted in Prince George’s County for involvement in a vehicle-theft ring that police say netted as many as 100 luxury cars in the District and Maryland.

Officials said many cars stolen in the District are found in Prince George’s County, which had nearly 13,000 thefts of its own last year.

Mr. Mendelson said the idea for the bill came from the Federal City Council, a local civic organization of business executives.

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