Car thefts, some with guns, continue to plague the neighborhood

photo of disassembled steering wheel column
Would-be thieves wrecked Kathleen Parker’s steering linkage

The carjacking problem and other attempts to steal cars in Bolton Hill and around the region haven’t gone away, notwithstanding some politicians’  happy talk about reduced crime.

At BHCA’s Oct. 3 meeting Baltimore Police Department (BPD) western district Officer Jose Morales, whose jurisdiction now includes the neighborhood, reported on two recent armed carjackings that led to the arrest of a youth and the recovery of a stolen car. But his report did not include other neighborhood incidents.

On Sunday, Oct. 1, BHCA board member Luke Chen was approached by two young men from a group of several. One held a gun. “I was leaning in, cleaning my back seat so I didn’t see them at first. They demanded my keys.” He was parked on McMechen St., near Park Ave.

“I was able to get past them and ran away. They didn’t follow me, luckily,” he said. They did not get the car and Chen gave the police video footage and went with officers to be interviewed. “They responded quickly,”  said Chen. It turned out the police were pursuing a similar incident in the 1800 block of Bolton Street.

In Baltimore city, there has been a 220 percent increase in thefts, with more than 7,700 car thefts this year and 380 carjackings, according to a WJZ-TV report last month. They said BPD made just 365 arrests for auto theft-related offenses. (Officer Morales said police have a no-pursuit policy when cars are stolen.) Minors make up 29 percent of those arrested. Between Jan. 1 and July 29, Baltimore Police recovered 4,245 stolen vehicles.

“My 2014 Hyundai got broken into in an attempted car theft – twice,” said Kathleen Parker, who lives in the neighborhood. The first incident was in daylight. “They did not take it but they did a lot of damage. They smashed a passenger window and damaged the steering and dashboard. The car was parked at the corner of Mosher and Mason. Parker covered the broken window with cardboard and a plastic bag, but someone returned the night of Sept. 30 and broke in again.

Victoria Ingersoll, a pre-school teacher who lives above Cookhouse, said her roommate’s car parked on Mosher Street was entered but a passing acquaintance happened by and saw the would-be theft in action and called police. The intruder fled.

So, what are we to do?  Given the numbers, it is unrealistic to expect police to pursue, much less investigate and arrest, carjackers unless there is an accompanying assault or homicide. The remedies the police suggest are mostly low-tech, but they are proven to work to reduce thefts, if not armed carjackings.

  • Buy and make daily use of a steering wheel lock. There are several versions that cost $15-20 and police say they are effective if used properly and often.
  • If you own a recent Kia or Hyundai, contact a dealer to get an upgrade on your key fob ignition. A flaw in the original equipment apparently makes stealing these cars especially easy. There are social media videos that explain how to steal them.
  • Lock your car every time you exit and double check it before you retire for the evening. Team up with a neighbor to watch your cars.
  • Keep your porch light on all night. It makes it harder for would-be bad guys to lurk in the dark.
  • If you have access to a garage or off-street parking, do not leave your vehicle on the street.
  • If you must park on the street and your car is damaged or taken, ask your neighbors if they have video. While police likely won’t put out an all-points bulletin on the basis of a few frames, it gives them a leg up if they happen to encounter the same guys (mostly guys) in another criminal act. BHCA has its own video camera network. For more information, go to the BHCA webpage on safety and security.

–Bill Hamilton