It's one of those holiday stories you hate to hear: A couple out shopping leaves the kids' brand-new toys in the trunk of their car only to return to the parking lot to discover the toys, or their car, stolen. It's enough to dampen the spirit of even the most optimistic holiday sentimentalist.
But Howard County police are joining forces with their counterparts in Baltimore city and county to make sure that tragic story isn't repeated as often this season. The jurisdictions are stepping up patrols along U.S. 40, a major escape route for car thieves, convenience store robbers and other criminals, the authorities say.
The joint effort, which will continue through New Year's Day, will include shopping plazas and intersections in Ellicott City, Catonsville and communities along Edmondson Avenue in the city. Howard police say that neighborhoods along Route 40 are popular dropping-off spots for expensive cars stolen in Columbia. A police spokesman promises the dragnet effort will produce "a remarkable difference in police presence."
The only downside to this news is that the effort cannot be continued year-round. Police have limited resources and can't fulfill all the demands on their list.
Along with the much welcomed Route 40 initiative, however, officials plan to increase the number of sobriety checkpoints on county roads and assign foot patrols to shopping areas to help make this holiday season even safer.
HOW MUCH IS A CORD?: A cord of wood measures 4 feet wide by 4 feet high by 8 feet long.
Unfortunately, a number of Howard County residents, it seems, are being duped by unscrupulous firewood salesmen, who have been peddling less than the standard cord for the price of the full amount. A plainclothes police officer recently arrested two men for selling about 15 percent of a full cord for $110. The penalty for such activity is a maximum of 18 months in jail and a $500 fine.
The two arrests are unlikely to curtail this sort of crime. Such dealers focus their sales pitches in heavily populated areas, where they consider the residents "city slickers," unknowledgeable about what a cord of wood is. Don't get duped.