Police: Maryland man’s decision to track and recover his stolen car wasn’t smart move

A Darnestown, Maryland, man who had his car stolen from his driveway was so frustrated, he decided to take matters into his own hands. But Montgomery County police said using Volvo’s tracking app to find the car himself in Southeast D.C. wasn’t a smart move.

Many newer vehicles have GPS location, but Montgomery County Assistant Police Chief Dinesh Patil believes it’s a tool that officers should use to find a stolen car, not owners.

“Going and taking the recovery into your own hands, you don’t know who you’re dealing with. On the other side, you don’t know the neighborhood,” he said. “A lot of times cars are stolen to be used in other crimes.

There could be a gun or drugs in the car, and it could have been used in a crime and need to be fingerprinted. The list of “what ifs” goes on and on.

Despite the disbanding of its auto theft unit due to budget cuts, police are still investigating stolen vehicles. Montgomery County police report 1,137 vehicles have been stolen so far this year.

There’s a common element among all the cases, Patil said: The car was unlocked.

He said that because of push-button starts.

“People are leaving their keys in the car out of convenience.”

He said there is no pattern to the thieves, who can range from teens messing around to criminals looking for cars to use in other crimes.

“They’re just going through neighborhoods, checking door handles. And if they get somewhat lucky, they may get in; they find your iPad or your cellphone or your purse or something. But they get really lucky if they find your car key in the car because people are doing that,” Patil said.

It is a relatively easy, low-risk crime that involves barely any confrontation and has a large reward, Patil said, so those attributes make stealing unlocked cars popular among criminals who are sharing their successes on social media.

For the most part, no one gets hurt, but Patil said he’s concerned about the crime escalating.

“We’ve had instances where these things elevate,” he said. “Imagine how much stuff you keep in your car. Your garage door opener is in there. Now, they come into your garage or decide, even worse, to come into your house while you’re sleeping. That’s our worst-case scenario that we don’t want to see happen. And it’s 100% preventable.”

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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