DENVER (KDVR) — It’s an issue that’s been talked about for months, Colorado is a leader in the nation for auto thefts.
Mayors and law enforcement leaders across the Front Range said they want the state to shake that reputation. So, they joined lawmakers at the Capitol Monday as they introduced a bill aimed to solve that problem.
For months, Colorado lawmakers have said that they want to reduce crime in the state. Monday, they introduced a new measure they hope will do just that.
“It is no secret that Colorado has witnessed a terrifying spike in the number of car thefts in recent months and years,” said Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Jefferson County.
According to the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority, more than 40,000 cars were stolen in the state last year, a 12% increase over the year before. Many believe the problem is rampant because people who steal cars that are worth less money are dealt a more lenient penalty.
“Right now, the severity of the penalty for stealing a car depends on the value of the stolen vehicle. This simply doesn’t make sense,” Zenzinger said. “It shouldn’t matter if a stolen car is a brand new BMW worth more than most folks make in a year or a 20-year-old Prius like mine worth $700.”
The newly introduced bill would make most car thefts a felony, but there is an exception for one group that is often caught taking cars that don’t belong to them.
“When I did juvenile practice, I did see those individuals who took a car and they took it from a family member because they wanted to go to a concert or wanted to go to a party and there wasn’t that intent to permanently deprive that we think of for serious motor vehicle thefts. That’s why this bill includes a provision for unauthorized use of motor vehicle, that unauthorized use is a misdemeanor level,” said Tim Lane of the Colorado District Attorney’s Council.
Lane noted the punishment for offenders under 18 who are not taking cars from family may not be much different unless they are tried as an adult.
“Generally, a juvenile faces up to two years in the [Division of Youth Services] if they are a serious offender, and that’s someplace the court feels is best,” Lane said. “That does not change whether it is a Class 3 felony or a Class 1 misdemeanor. So, while the level of the felony they would be convicted of if they were tried as an adult will change, the actual juvenile system will use that to help guide judges, and making their decision on what is the appropriate punishment for a juvenile.”
With recent carjackings in the state involving young people, bill sponsors were asked about the root causes of auto theft.
Zezinger said, “That is a separate issue.”
The bill was formally introduced Monday afternoon and lawmakers said they do not anticipate this measure having many issues moving through the Capitol. It is backed by Democrats, Republicans, some area mayors and leaders in law enforcement.
Another goal of the bill aims to prevent repeat offenders by increasing the felony level if the offender has two prior convictions for auto theft, if the suspect possesses the stolen car for over 24 hours, alters the car’s plates, leaves the state, causes $1,000 or more in damage, causes an injury to another or uses the vehicle in another crime.