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Gas-powered scooters, prized for ease of parking and the ability to cut through stalled city traffic, have lately become even more mobile.

On Aug. 27, a woman who does not wish to be named rode her 50cc Vespa ET2 from a downtown lunch date to her home in the 1200 block of 29th Street NW. She parked her silver-painted ride on the sidewalk, encircled one of its wheels with a lock, and went inside her house to let the dog out.

“I was back outside in 10 minutes, and [my scooter] was gone,” she says. “I was standing there with my helmet, with no place to go.”

According to District police, nine other scooters have disappeared in similar ways from downtown and Georgetown since early July. The heisted vehicles—including late-model Vespas, Hondas, and Kymcos—were typically stolen off sidewalks and street corners.

“You get these thefts occasionally, but over the past [eight] weeks I’ve noticed a trend,” says Charles Elliott, of the Metropolitan Police Department’s plainclothes Focus Mission Unit.

Police encountered a possible explanation for the trend the day of the 29th Street heist: A witness at the scene called 911 to report men hefting a scooter into the back of a large van. Elliott and other officers hustled in an unmarked squad car to P Street, a “known escape route” for criminals, says Elliott.

Nearing Dupont Circle, the cops caught sight of the van—a dark-green Ford Econoline, which had its back seats removed and was later proved to have been stolen from the District government.

“[W]e followed it for a few blocks, but [the driver] spotted us and took off,” says Elliott. The department’s no-chase policy stopped the cops from giving further pursuit, and the van’s windows were so heavily tinted, Elliott says, “that all we could see was three silhouettes.” Later that day, another scooter was taken from the corner of 15th and G Streets.

On Sept. 7, an auto-theft police unit stopped the stolen van and detained its occupants. However, there were no scooters in the vehicle.

The hoist-and-run MO has become a regional specialty. Earlier this year, thieves based in Prince George’s County were doing the same thing with motorcycles. “It’s a crime of opportunity,” Elliott says. “People are making the mistake of putting the lock through the wheel….What you want to do is lock it to something.”

But unlike factory-fresh motorcycles, which have interstate market appeal, the scooters, which generally fall into the $2,000-$3,000 price range, tend to stay in the city.

“I don’t think there’s any real demand for them other than selling them to kids,” says Elliott, who’s heard reports from 6th and 7th District officers of children riding new scooters.

“They zip down little trails and sidewalks and alleys,” he says. “They tear them up and toss them on the corner when they’re through.” CP