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Campus Police to offer car window etching as theft deterrent

MIT Campus Police will offer window glass etching, a proven auto theft deterrent, to members of the community for $10 on Thursday, Oct. 1 in conjunction with the Governor's Auto Theft Strike Force, which seeks to lower the number of cars stolen in the state.

The process of chemically etching the car's vehicle identification number (VIN)--a 16-digit number imprinted on the dash of every car--into every piece of window glass (even sun roofs) takes about 20 minutes. The etched number is small enough not to be conspicuous to the casual observer; a sticker placed on the car alerts thieves to the antitheft measure.

"Car thieves stay away from cars with etched windows because it makes them virtually unsellable" as parts or vehicles, said Det. Lt. Richard Rand of the State Police. "Usually they see the sticker first, but sometimes they steal a car, then realize it was etched and abandon it."

"It's really effective for older cars, like Toyota Camrys, Corollas and Mazdas from the early '90s and mid- to late '80s, that don't have built-in antitheft devices," he said. The VINs on those cars can be replaced with VINs taken from cars in junk yards, then registered in states such as Rhode Island and New Hampshire that don't require a title to register a vehicle more than 10 years old, said Det. Lt. Rand, the officer in charge of the Governor's Auto Theft Strike Force. He added that law enforcement officials in Rhode Island are currently pressing for changes to that state's law to require a show of title before an old vehicle can be registered.

"We've had gangs of kids come up from Providence to steal cars--five of them drive up in one car and go home in five separate cars," he said.

According to State Police records, 7,731 vehicles were stolen in Boston last year, down from 9,271 in 1996. In Cambridge, 504 were stolen in 1997; 547 in 1996. Somerville had 550 stolen vehicles last year and 622 in 1996.

"On average, 85-90 percent of those vehicles are recovered in some way, shape or form, but it may not be in the form the owner would like. They may be wrecked, stripped or burned," said Det. Lt. Rand.

MIT Campus Police records show 13 auto thefts on campus during 1997, down from 24 in 1996.

Because etching the VIN onto window glass has proven to be an effective antitheft measure, program participants get up to a 15 percent discount on the comprehensive portion of their auto insurance if no other antitheft device is in place.

The window etching will get underway at 9am at the rear of the Johnson Athletics Center and continue until 2:45pm. Participants should enter from Vassar Street across from the West Garage, and they should bring $10 cash. No checks will be accepted, said Sgt. Cheryl deJong Vossmer of the Campus Police Crime Prevention Unit.

In case of severe rainy conditions, window etching will not be done that day. For more information, contact Sgt. Vossmer at or x3-9755.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 23, 1998.

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