In Annapolis, it's the season for scooters to disappear.

One man thought a friend was playing a trick on him when his motor scooter vanished two weeks ago from the stairwell in his apartment building. It wasn't a joke.

And Kenneth West said he came out of his Eastport home one recent morning and saw that the gray scooter he'd chained to his fence was gone.

"I'd locked it up," he said. But the lock was gone, too.

West had had the scooter for only several months.

"I just use it to go to the store, close by," he said. "They're big here in Annapolis because there's nowhere to park."

But motor scooters are also big with thieves, Annapolis police said.

So far this warm season, a dozen have been taken, putting the city on track to match if not exceed the 43 stolen last year.

"It's the season. The weather is warm, and gas prices are going back up. Those are two contributing factors," said Lt. Bob Emory of the Annapolis Police Department.

Scooters can be bought new for less than $2,000, while used scooters sell for several hundred dollars. On summer days, they seem to be everywhere in the city, parked in front of banks and on the move in bike lanes.

"It's amazing how many people out here you see riding scooters," Emory said.

Nearly as easy to maneuver as a bicycle, they require no pedal power and no state motor vehicle registration. They can keep up with city traffic.

They disappear from all around the city as well. They are fairly easy to steal, not only because many owners leave them unlocked. Thieves use bolt-cutters to free the bikes from cable locks.

"They are easy to jump off of and leave abandoned," Emory said.

Abandoned scooters turn up in woods, in business districts and residential communities.

Police suspect that youths are responsible for at least some recent thefts, stealing scooters as quick transportation and dumping them when they're done using them or when the scooters run out of gas.

Also, scooters' small size allows thieves to make quick work of rolling them into a waiting van. No one has been charged in the thefts.

To try to combat scooter theft and help with returning stolen scooters to owners, the Annapolis Police Department recently instituted a free "scooter watch" program. Numbered decals go on participants' scooters, alerting police in the city that they can stop those scooters at any time to check if they are stolen.

Participants receive a free lock. The lock is not foolproof, but better than nothing, Emory said.

"Hopefully, it's a deterrent," Emory said.

So far, about 35 people have signed on. For information about the program, call 410-268-9000, ext. 7322.

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