With auto thefts a growing problem, Montgomery County police have launched a program that can help owners recover their vehicles if they are stolen.

The auto theft initiative program consists of three components: increasing visibility of patrol officers in areas with more auto thefts, educating residents on preventing auto theft and installing devices in residents’ vehicles to help track them if they are stolen, according to police.

Vehicle thefts have been on the rise in recent years, according to statistics provided by police. In 2021, more than 1,400 vehicles were reported stolen, a 23.46 percent increase from 2020. As of June 6, there have been 511 auto thefts in the county this year, according to police spokesperson Carlos Cortes-Vazquez.

Most of the 2021 auto thefts have occurred in Silver Spring and Bethesda, according to a report presented to the Montgomery County Council’s Public Safety Committee in December. More than 300 auto theft cases took place in Silver Spring alone, the report said.

As part of the program, county residents can register to have police install a free Tile device in their vehicles. The device can be used as an aid to help law enforcement officials locate a stolen vehicle.

Once the device is installed, vehicle owners can download an app to track their vehicles. County police will not have the ability to track the Tile device, according to police. Instead, residents are responsible for providing tracking information if their car gets stolen. 

Officers have installed 54 tile devices as of Thursday, according to police. There are an additional 45 appointments booked.

No vehicles with a Tile have been stolen so far, police said.

Officers also are reminding residents that they can prevent auto thefts by locking doors and removing keys and valuables from their vehicles.

The auto theft initiative program launched earlier this year and was initially available to some residents of the police department’s 4th district, which covers Wheaton and neighboring areas, according to a press release. The eligible areas were chosen based on statistical data displaying the highest numbers of auto thefts in the district, police said.

The program became available to all county residents at the end of May, according to a police spokesperson. To have a Tile device installed, participants of the program must be county residents and be the registered owner of the vehicle. Presentation of ID and vehicle registration is required. 

Appointments, which can be booked online, are available Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m., as well as Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Anyone interested in participating in the program can contact Sgt. Ijeoma Enedu at 240-773-5581 or ijeoma.enendu@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Christine Zhu of Gaithersburg, a rising junior at the University of Maryland who is studying journalism and Spanish, is the Bethesda Beat summer intern.