- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Ehrlich administration has joined the effort to stop the high number of vehicle thefts in Prince George’s County and surrounding areas.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday presented a $700,000 check to the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council.

The money was made available through a special budget appropriation by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

“We’re doing something that’s long overdue and very, very important,” Mr. Steele, a Republican, said yesterday while in District Heights to give the check to Maryland and county officials. “We are here today to begin to resolve the vehicle-theft epidemic that affects the county.”

Prince George’s County has had the worst car-theft problem in the state and will receive $550,000 from the council.

Officials say they have already made significant progress in improving on the 18,485 vehicle thefts reported in 2004, reducing the rate so far this year by 16 percent. But they say the money is needed to increase enforcement.

“A lot of the money will [also] go toward advertising campaigns so our citizens can help protect themselves,” said Chief Melvin High of the Prince George’s County Police Department.

The department will receive $300,000 to bolster the Washington Area Vehicle Enforcement team, which will have as many as 40 officers from the region to catch thieves, recover vehicles and shut down chop shops, where stolen vehicles are cut up for parts.

About $100,000 will go to the county’s state’s attorney’s office to assist in the prosecution of car thieves. Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said the office now has four prosecutors, an investigator and a paralegal specifically assigned to handle such cases.

Officials also are trying to establish an auto-theft court under one judge for consistent sentencing.

“We’re not going to get anything done until we send our young people to jail and send them a message,” said state Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George’s Democrat.

Some of the money will also go toward such public-awareness campaigns as the “Watch Your Car” program, in which vehicle owners tell police their cars are not used from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. If officers see the vehicle out during that time, they are authorized to stop it and verify ownership.

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