BPD Western District chief gives lengthy response to Bolton Hill crime reports

The commander of the Baltimore Police Department’s Western District, Maj. Matt Corell, gave a no-nonsense review of the continuing region-wide high incidence of car thefts and armed robberies at the November BHCA meeting. He detailed his officers’ activities to reduce these crimes in and around Bolton Hill, which became part of the Western District in July.

These are the highlights:

  • There were five reported armed-carjacking attempts in the neighborhood in the first three weeks of October. Six juveniles have been arrested and are believed to be responsible for four of them. Incidents took place in the 100 and 200 blocks of W. Lafayette Ave., the 1700 block of Park Ave., the 1800 block of Eutaw and 1800 Bolton St.
  • Corell believes juveniles, some as young as 10 to 12, are responsible for most of the auto thefts, in part the result of Tik Tok how-to videos encouraging them, particularly on Kias and Hyundais. New state laws governing police handling of juveniles and requiring legal representation have made that process “challenging,” he said.
  • He has seen no evidence that the incidents are part of organized car theft rings rather than improvisational and opportunistic crimes. Usually, the cars are abandoned and recovered.
  • Unmarked police cars and officers on foot and out of uniform have been assigned in disproportionate numbers to Bolton Hill in recent weeks to get a handle on patterns and try to reduce these incidents.  He admitted that it is difficult to anticipate when or where an attempt at car theft might occur: “We have three times captured them in the act.”
  • He encouraged leaving porch lights and other lighting on at night: “This is the darkest neighborhood I have seen in 26 years.” He encouraged residents who see suspicious behavior to shine a light or shout out, and call 911. “Don’t fear embarrassment.”
  • Western District residents grew by a third in population and in area covered, but only four additional officers have been allocated. The redrawn district covers 24 neighborhoods. The mayor’s office has insisted on a permanent presence near the Mt. Royal exit from I-83 south as part of his squeegeer control program. Full-time coverage also is required near North and Pennsylvania Avenues, an area of persistent trouble.
  • Corell invited residents to “ride along” with Western District officers. To arrange such a tour, contact the Western District headquarters.

Jim Prost, who leads BHCA’s Safety and Security Committee, reported that in Bolton Hill for the first three quarters of the year total reported police incidents were up from 166 to 196, or 18 percent. Within these figures, auto thefts advanced from 10 to 80–an increase of 700 percent. Total reported crime excluding auto thefts declined by 27 percent. Similar jumps in auto-related crime have occurred in Baltimore County and D.C.

“I have been watching these numbers for several years,” he said. “It seems to me that Western has done a decent job since Bolton Hill fell under its jurisdiction.”

More than 1,000 cars have been stolen in Baltimore every month since June, according to the Baltimore Banner. While the problem is regional, Baltimore city has had more auto thefts than Baltimore, Prince Georges and Montgomery counties combined.

The mayor announced in a campaign email what he called “a multifaceted plan to address this problem head-on and build on the progress we have made in reducing overall crime in Baltimore City.” The plan includes free steering wheel locks for Kia and Hyundai owners and collaboration with dealers. “We will distribute digital tracking tags to help residents recover their vehicle” and “installing additional license plate readers in areas with high numbers of reported vehicle thefts,” he said.

He made no mention of additional police manpower.