BOSTON -- Massachusetts is still the car theft capital of the country, but police in cities where most autos are stolen think tough new laws and a proposed new public awareness program may change that.
The State Department of Public Safety Friday released figures showing a continuing decline in the auto theft rate the last three years, although saying 'the state still holds its dubious distinction as auto theft capital.'
In 1981, preliminary figures show there were 52,538 cars stolen across the state, compared to 62,329 three years earlier. The rate declined by 8.6 percent in 1980 and 9.6 percent last year.
Gov. Edward J. King said an intensive anti-theft program for car owners will be held in the 20 cities where 73 percent of the cars annually are stolen.
Public Safety Secretary George Luciano said his office has implemented most of the recommendations of a governor's task force on auto theft.
In 1980, King signed into law mandatory minimum jail sentences of one year for repeat car thieves and full restitution to car theft victims.
There is also a new category of criminal offense for filing false insurance claims for stolen cars and owners have to sign statements under penalties of perjury.
The governor said he's ordered a public awareness campaign to 'focus public attention on the serious issues of the car theft problem and to demonstrate the urgency of prevention techniques.'
The 20 cities which have the highest rate of car theft are Boston, Springfield, Worcester, Cambridge, Brockton, Fall River, Somerville, Lynn, Lowell, Lawrence, Quincy, New Bedford, Braintree, Chelsea, Brookline, Medford, Holyoke, Dedham, Woburn, and Malden.
More than one third of all the car thefts in the state occur in Boston.
Police chiefs from those cities weriday to attend an orientation session of the new anti-auto theft program.
One police official in Lynn said in that city car theft 'is going up. We have several different groups that are organized and take orders.'
Malden Police Chief James M. Finn said there's been an increase in his city too because of the addition of two large parking lots to service commuters using new subway stations.
Fall River Police Capt. Normand Ciutu said the rate is 'down somewhat,' and said the new laws 'have been helpful in discouraging theft, but you still have them.'
'You have chop shops, but that's professional and there's no longer (the number) of joy riders,' Ciutu said.