It's one of those holiday stories you hate to hear: A couple out shopping leave the kids' brand new toys in the trunk of the car, only to return to the parking lot to discover the toys or their cars have been stolen. It's enough to dampen the spirit of 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 have announced a holiday initiative to step up patrols along U.S. 40, which the authorities say is used as a major escape route for car thieves, convenience store robbers and other criminals.
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 that the dragnet effort will produce "a remarkable difference in police presence," and, presumably, an attendant drop in crime.
The only problem with 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 Route 40 initiative, officials also plan to increase the number of sobriety check points on county roads and to 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 suburban 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.