A significant increase in the number of car thefts in Montgomery County has police concerned about the crime and exasperated by the preventable nature of many of the incidents.
Last month, 87 vehicles were stolen, bringing the year’s total to 367, police spokesman Officer Rick Goodale said this week.
During the same period last year, only 264 cars had been stolen, he said. That means car thefts have increased by 39 percent this year.
A “very high” number of these cars are stolen by thieves using keys, Goodale said. Incidents often start with thieves simply looking for items of value to take from a car—until they notice a set of spare keys.
Capt. Dave Falcinelli, commander of the 2nd police district, said his district, which covers Bethesda and some of Chevy Chase, has actually seen a 25 percent decrease in car thefts this year, but 44 cars have still been stolen.
“I certainly think that although our numbers are down in our district this year, they’re still higher than they need to be,” Falcinelli said. “If people kept their spare keys in their home and not in their car, our auto thefts would go to less than two or three per year.”
Falcinelli said the majority of cars stolen in his district are newer models that use keys with electronic transponder chips. It’s almost impossible to steal such a car without the key, he said.
“I preach the same thing all the time—it’s keep the keys out of the cars,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, that’s how they’re stealing cars, by using keys.”
Police recommend residents not leave any valuables or spare keys in cars and to always keep cars locked because many thefts occur in unlocked vehicles.
In an email sent to District 2 neighborhoods in late April, Falcinelli advised residents against storing spare keys in a second car at a residence so the first could be moved more conveniently. He said several cars had been stolen that way.
Detectives have been able to recover many stolen cars, a number of them in Washington, D.C., and have made several arrests in the thefts.
In late April, police arrested three people in connection to several car thefts. Jason Coletta, 33, of Bethesda, faces five charges of unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, while Daniel Myers, 20, of Bethesda, faces four and David Kambar-Paillahueque, 18, of Chevy Chase, faces three. All three also face more than a dozen theft charges.
Falcinelli compared investigating car thefts and thefts from cars to a “game of whack-a-mole,” in which different groups from different areas come into a neighborhood and hit as many cars as possible at random times. He said police depend on residents calling to report suspicious activity.
Bethesda-area police will begin more “proactive” patrols in June, visiting neighborhoods that have experienced more thefts. Falcinelli said more thieves are out when the weather is warmer and school is out, so car thefts and thefts from cars tend to increase in the summer.