Nichols believes changes in local laws has helped lower vehicle theft rates as well. For example, auto theft victims are no longer required to appear in court and stricter regulations are in place for vehicle recyclers.

"In the past, we had more tow trucks in Prince George's than those who were licensed to tow vehicles. Some of those with tow trucks, not a model second vehicle for a family, could take a couple of stolen vehicles to a recycler daily and make a lot of money," Nichols said. "The regulations on recyclers were tightened where if a stolen vehicle is found at a recycler's business, they could lose their license."

According to McLaughlin, another component in the mix in the battle to reduce auto thefts is a lot of old-fashioned policing. He said he places plain-clothes officers on the streets and especially in places where they notice an area is experiencing a spike in auto thefts.

Among auto thefts still occurring in Maryland, 2000 Dodge Caravans and 1996 Honda Accords are the top models being stolen. McDonold said 50 percent of vehicles are still stolen because the owner left the keys in the ignition, most often when paying for gas or buying coffee at a convenience store, or during winter when drivers are warming up their cars and leave them unoccupied. County officials are trying to cut down on this by making it illegal to leave an idling vehicle unattended.

One area where officials said there has not been much progress made is the chop shop industry, run by professionals who have operated out of the county for many years now.

"Chop shop operations are up, and they are more organized — not just locally, but nationally," McDonold said.

In Nichols' opinion, "The only way to fix chop shops is stepped-up enforcement. You have to find a way to increase enforcement, which is part of the problem."

On the bright side, McDonold said more funding is being made available so jurisdictions can continue to aggressively tackle the auto theft problem. The Maryland Auto Theft Prevention Council has a $2 million budget to give grants to jurisdictions statewide for preventive programs. Those programs could range from public awareness campaigns to training, funding for the State's Attorneys Office, programs aimed at juveniles and grants to law enforcement agencies.

"We have 19 grantees currently, and the amounts they receive vary," McDonold said.

Last month, auto theft council officials increased funding to Prince George's County by 70 percent for its' auto theft prevention efforts.

"Prince George's received a $110,000 increase for a total of $270,000. They have done an excellent job in decreasing auto thefts, but they still lead the state, so they still are trying to get the numbers down even more," McDonold said.

Although the drop in auto thefts in the county is significant, the recovery rate of vehicles stolen is dismal. McDonold said in the 1990s, the recovery rate for stolen vehicles was 75 to 90 percent. Currently, it is only about 52 percent, because he said professional chop shops are still thriving. Losses due to auto theft in 2011 alone totaled $4.5 billion.

"Auto theft is still considered a major issue with more professional thieves out there," McDonold said. "The numbers are going down, but people should still take precautions and be careful where they park."

Top 10 vehicles reported stolen in Maryland in 2011

2000 Dodge Caravan

1996 Honda Accord

2000 Honda Civic

2006 Ford Pickup (full size)

2011 Toyota Camry

2010 Toyota Corolla

1999 Ford Crown Victoria

1996 Nissan Maxima

1999 Plymouth Voyager

2002 Nissan Altima

Source: National Insurance Crime Bureau