Aurora proposal for mandated sentences for car thefts draws heated City Council debate – Colorado Springs Gazette

June 28, 2022 by No Comments

Members of Aurora City Council agree on the urgency of the need to combat rising car thefts. What to do, and whether harsher penalties work as deterrents, is where members remain divided.

City Council approved a resolution Monday night directing city staff to develop a “comprehensive” plan for addressing motor vehicle thefts, including reviewing sentences for car thefts, toughening prosecution and penalties and increased resources for Aurora police to catch offenders. The resolution also requires the city manager to push for harsher penalties for car theft in the state legislature.

Discussion of the resolution blended with debate over proposed changes to Aurora’s motor vehicle theft ordinance, which passed first reading Monday night on a 7 to 3 vote and would impose mandatory minimum sentences under the existing city code.

The ordinance proposal includes a 60-day mandatory sentence for car theft under the city’s existing ordinance, up to 120 days for repeat offenders, increased penalties for theft of essential car parts and a mandated 10 days in jail for missing a court appearance.

At-Large Councilmember Dustin Zvonek brings the proposal to City Council amid broad concern about spiking auto thefts, also mirrored elsewhere in Colorado.

“My concern is the cost of doing nothing,” he said.

The proposal includes a provision to sunset the ordinance in 2024 so City Council can look at whether it has affected car thefts, and either renew the changes or let them expire.

Pete Schulte, an attorney for the city, said that historically municipal prosecutors have not charged failures to appear as separate offenses, and if the underlying case is dismissed, a penalty for failing to appear goes away as well, he said. Schulte said the goal of charging them as separate offenses with a mandated penalty of 10 days in jail is to create an incentive not to miss court dates.

Dan Oates, Aurora’s interim chief of police, said the use of stolen cars in connection with violent crimes is an increasing concern for law enforcement.

“More and more when we are contacting violent felons, there is a stolen car associated with the activity.”

The council also passed a resolution calling for staff to explore the possibility of creating a city-owned, cost-neutral impound lot, intended to mitigate costs for people recovering their stolen cars. According to the resolution, absorbing fees for victims of auto theft costs Aurora just under $975,000 annually.

Ward Four Councilmember Juan Marcano, the most outspoken opponent of the harsher penalties, said he believes the mandated penalties will do more for politics than public safety in practice. One car thief put in jail will always be replaced by another, he said, unless underlying social and economic circumstances that motivate people to steal cars are addressed.

“We have more people in this country – the land of the free – than any other country in the world in jail, and we are not any safer for it.”

Though the proposals have drawn heated disagreement between some council members, Marcano’s acknowledgment that they all agree on the harm done by car theft briefly brought down the meeting’s temperature.

He said he supported the resolution because of the provision to create a victims’ fund for offsetting costs of property crime, but made it known he disagreed with the directives for harsher auto theft penalties.

“I will support this because of the victims’ assistance fund, everything else in here to me is a big ‘L’.”



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