EDITORIAL: Aurora car theft proposal is hardly a steal of a deal for future victims

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This Thursday, May 21, 2020, photo shows a parked car with a broken front window after a smash-and-grab break-in (AP File Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

It’s good news that at least some lawmakers say they’re keenly interested in addressing rampant car thefts in Aurora and the metro area.

The bad news for future car-theft victims is that at least one local proposal will do little or nothing to solve the problem. 

Aurora Councilperson Dustin Zvonek has been peddling a plan among Colorado media for the past week that he says will actually reduce the astonishing number of car thefts in the city.

For the past few years, Colorado has regrettably been on or near the top of the list of statewide car thefts per capita, and the Aurora-Denver metro area is among the worst metroplexes in the nation.

Aurora and Colorado are not alone in facing huge hikes in all kinds of criminal offenses, and this metroplex is like many others experiencing huge increases in stolen cars.

While there’s some disagreement, numerous crime, insurance and sociology experts point to the massive disruption, economic and sociological damage caused by the pandemic as the chief reason for increases in car thefts and other crime.

A 2021 report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau said that, besides socio-economic changes, car-owner “complacency” is the other major factor. People leaving keys and keyless fobs in cars, locked and unlocked, are easy and inviting targets for professional and amateur thieves.

Zvonek and a handful of other Republicans say the problem is lax car theft laws.

He’s proposing a city law that would mandate at least two months of jail time for those convicted of misdemeanor car theft. 

Set aside the long proven and re-proven fact that the threat of jail and even prison sentences do not deter crime in any meaningful way, despite many lawmakers’ passionate wish that it were so.

Right now, Louisville, Tulsa, Salt Lake City, Kansas City and Chattanooga — all in “tough-on-crime” states — also suffer as top car-theft havens.

Neither history nor science, however, back up any of the “lock ’em up” hopeful malarkey.

Interim Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates is adding to this well-worn myth by insisting that in his previous tenure as Aurora police chief, he not only actuated, with an “understanding,” tougher car-theft penalties as chief in 2005, but that it actually reduced the rate of car thefts in Aurora.

Most importantly, neither Oates nor any police official in Aurora has the power to affect the justice departments of the city or the state. Police, by design, are separate from prosecutors and courts.

While Oates is correct in that during his tenure car thefts, and all crimes, did indeed subside during those years, they fell at the same rate in Denver, across the metro area, across the state and across the nation.

It’s doubtful anything Oates or anyone in Aurora did had such national consequences.

Some Aurora leaders are increasingly moving away from solid science and replacing it with unproven and often inaccurate assumptions, often against better advice from professional city staffers.

It’s a common error for amateurs and politicians to conflate correlation with causation.

A community of conservative city and state legislators, and some police, insist that a national and statewide trend toward reducing jail time for less serious offenses, and reducing bail for poor people not yet adjudicated, are the cause of increased crime, and in this case car thefts.

There’s no credible proof behind their assumption, and states “tough on crime,” also in the thick of crime and violence hikes, belie the fable. Wishing something were so and acting on it is the worst kind of public policy and political maneuvering.

But just as importantly, even if it were true that threatening 60 days in jail for stealing a car in Aurora actually made a potential thief change his or her mind or change the city he or she stole a car in, Zvonek’s bill would do next to nothing.

This bill, and all Aurora law, can only address misdemeanor offenses heard in city courts. Relatively recently changed state law makes nearly all car thefts, by their nature, felony offenses. That’s even before a bevy of aggravating additions to rare misdemeanor accusations increase the severity of the crime, such as keeping the stolen car longer than 24 hours or causing more than $500 in damage to the stolen car. That’s an easy bar to meet just by trying to jam a screwdriver into the steering column or breaking a single car window.

All felony cases must be bound over to district courts, outside of the city’s reach.

And even if there were enough misdemeanor car-theft cases to offer up to local courts, despite repeated inquiries by The Sentinel, it appears neither city police, courts nor Zvonek know how many misdemeanor car theft suspects are actually charged or convicted in the city.

This is alarmingly similar to recent proposals to end homeless camps by banning homeless camping, a failed tactic in Denver and across the nation, and erroneous state legislator insistence that increasing criminal penalties for fentanyl use will reduce fentanyl use.

These pitches are great fodder for TV newscasts but quickly wither under closer scrutiny and especially in light of recent and current history showing that not Aurora, nor anywhere, can just wish its way to being a safer community.

Zvonek’s time, and that of the city council, would be better spent working with real experts and other metro governments to find credible ways to address this and other problems, and leave the performance politics in Washington. 

 

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Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
6 days ago

If only GOP would become informed before making proposals. These problems like car theft need need multi-factor approach or will not be at all successful and often make problem worse. Just making harsher penalties and putting people into crowded jails that do not rehabilitate in any way, are shown by research to have no effect generally on the crime deterrent, and specifically do not help change the person who goes to jail, which in most cases does not happen anyway.

Last edited 6 days ago by Debra MacKillop
Don Black
Don Black
6 days ago

I suggest that we continue the social justice approach that the Sentinel advocates until we have no society left. Obviously, there is no need for the police or the justice system. Let us see how that works out. The criminals will obviously see the error of their ways and come to the lord. Thank you for the social justice warriors who will lead us out of this. Studies have shown that it is not the severity of the punishment but the certainty of the punishment that counts. We have none of that.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
6 days ago
Reply to  Don Black

And right on cue comes the expert, Don, with nothing of substance to offer other than sarcasm.

Last edited 6 days ago by Joe Felice
Joe Felice
Joe Felice
6 days ago

This is a “sound good” proposal by Zvonek and will resonate with the base. It will serve him well, as he has loftier ambitions of becoming a professional politician. (Just watch as he runs for the State Legislature in 2 years and for governor at some point.) Everything he says provides for good talking points but offer no real solutions. Know this now so that his words and actions can be kept in perspective.

All the laws in the world are useless in a broken “justice” system. They are contingent on enforcement and apprehension by the police (which doesn’t happen), on prosecution by prosecutors (which rarely happens) and by conviction by the courts (if a case happens to get that far). People need to be realistic and know how the system doesn’t work for us. But go ahead, Zvonek. Propose all the laws you can. It will at least sound good.

Last edited 6 days ago by Joe Felice
Tawny Fox
Tawny Fox
6 days ago

Zvonek is well-aware that this proposal of his will do absolutely nothing, but his base will eat it up, nonetheless. And the GOP council will approve it and they’ll all pat themselves on the back and celebrate pulling another hank of wool over their constituents’ eyes. Gross.

Patricio
Patricio
6 days ago

Not one commenter or the person who wrote this article offered one non criminal conviction solution to the car theft problem. So, brainiacs, what do you think would stop the raft of robberies, carjackings, car theft, catalytic converter theft and other crimes going on right now. We all went through the emotional strain of the pandemic, but it never made me want to go out and steal a car or smash and grab a jewelry store. I am pretty sure that the stats show that there is a core of criminals that commit a lot of crime – that’s their job. And yes, if they’ve been arrested several times, it’s pretty clear who they are and you CAN take them off the streets for a period of years. Your solutions (or lack thereof) make the quality of life for the rest of us pretty depressing. The country has had it. You’ll see in
N o v e m b e r. There will be new Sheriffs in town.

Dean
6 days ago

Crime no matter what flavor, the taxpayer doing his best to pay his bills with honest work trying to survive, does not like these unwilling lawmakers to do nothing about it. And this invention of the notion that it’s wrong to punish these car thieves with something that has teeth, now that’s some real social- justice avoidance of consequences by politicians… The big problem with that, is the honest worker-bee, the ones that vote, want this to change. California as left as it gets, nonetheless, still has a few honest working taxpayers, and most important their also voters.  After rising crime rates proved intolerable even for the famously progressive city San Francisco, voters fired district attorney Chesa Boudin.  He was the left-wing radical DA, his downfall, the perception that his office is not willing to do much about crime. Calif voters are weeding out these local and state law makers that refuse to take action to keep rising crime away from their neighborhoods. CM Dustin Zvonek, has had plenty of data, just from the calls and emails from voters to solve this problem — not shield the thieves. Its time the voters have had enough, and want the city to be what healthy cities should be.  

NIck Campbell
NIck Campbell
5 days ago

I would like to see statistics on how many car thieves are arrested relative to how many cars are stolen. It all comes down to enforceability and do we have enough officers to enforce any changes, I don’t think so. We currently have people driving without a drivers license, current registration, or insurance but what we don’t have is enough officers to regulate it. If it’s made into a felony, what would they be able to plea that down to?

Dennis
Dennis
4 days ago

I support making Dave Perry mayor and or maybe one of the liberal contributors below Chief of Police. Take your pick they all think the same

john wilson
john wilson
1 day ago

This and violent crime increases is a very predictable result when Democrats get control of an area. All you have to do is look at LA, SF, Seattle(where we got the second worst chief from), Chicago, Dtroit…etc. Why is there any surprised people out there, you voted for this? Now settle in for the Californication of Colorado, it is almost complete…..