COLORADO — Colorado legislators introduced a bipartisan bill Monday to combat record-high motor vehicle theft in the state.
Colorado has the highest car theft rate in the country, according to the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority (CATPA). About 105 cars got stolen every day in 2022.
The proposed legislation would increase the minimum penalty for motor vehicle theft to a Class 5 felony, punishable by one to three years in prison or a fine of $1,000 to $100,000. Currently, the minimum penalty for motor vehicle theft of a car worth up to $2,000 is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 364 days in jail. The new legislation would scrap the value-based penalty system for car thefts.
"A car is a car and the crime of stealing one should be treated the same. No community has been untouched by this crisis," said the prime sponsor of the bill Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, during a press conference at the capitol Monday.
Republican Senator Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs is a co-sponsor of the bill. He said law enforcement has been pushing for harsher penalties for motor vehicle theft and this new bill would crack down on repeat offenders.
"If you steal a vehicle, you've committed a felony, and you'll be charged with a felony," said Sen. Gardner. "This is one piece of the problem and dealing with the problem. It's a major step in the right direction."
The other sponsors of the bill include Reps. Matt Soper, R-Delta, and Shannon Bird, D-Westminster.
Law enforcement officials, including Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrien Vasquez, have continued to warn Coloradans about increased motor thefts in the state. Half are stolen while the car is running, called "puffing," which is illegal in Colorado. This is very common at gas stations as people leave vehicles running to grab gas, use the restroom, or grab a snack.
"I am in a rush all the time, I have a lot of kids, I have a lot of dogs and I'm just always on the move," said a Pueblo resident Ashley Santana.
Pueblo saw a 23% increase in car thefts from 2021 to 2022 according to data from the Pueblo Police Department.
"It's ridiculous actually," said Santana.
However, things may change, as new proposed legislation would now have car thieves face felony charges. Right now, it's only a class 1 misdemeanor if the vehicle involved is less than two thousand dollars.
"It makes me feel a lot safer," said Santana.
A criminal with a felony can serve jail time, said Pueblo Police Chief Chris Noeller. He said this proposed legislation could decrease repeated offenders.
"I know it's frustrating for our citizens, I know it's frustrating for my officers," said Noeller.
In just the first month of 2023, Noeller said more than 100 cars have been stolen in the Pueblo area.
Pueblo Police use license plate readers to help find stolen cars. Known as Automated License Plate Readers or (ALPRs) these high-speed, automated cameras read license plates, recording location, date, and time allowing law enforcement to track where vehicles have been potentially allowing law enforcement to link a vehicle to a crime.
State leaders want every police department in the state to have this technology moving forward to continue to crack down on motor vehicle theft moving forward.
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