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Lawmaker wants to charge car theft victims with misdemeanor if their cars were left unlocked

Posted: 5:48 PM, Dec 11, 2017
Updated: 2017-12-12 07:10:10-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — “This is ground zero. There’s no more cars stolen anywhere in the state, then they are right here in St. Petersburg,” said Representative Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg.

Newton says he’s not trying to change the law. Just amend it.

He’s pushing a bill making it a second degree misdemeanor to leave your car with the keys inside and the engine running.

Right now it’s just a ticket, but those are rare.

It’s the latest attempt to stop the epidemic of hundreds of car thefts each year, many committed by juveniles — sometimes with deadly results.

“Shut your engine off, lock your engine and take your keys. There’s a good chance when you get back out there, your car might be there,” said Newton.

But the guy in charge of enforcing the law in St. Petersburg says he doesn’t want to turn victims into criminals.

“I think we need to come up with another solution, whether it be a fine or even call the insurance company. If your car is $20,000 and you leave the keys in it, maybe the insurance company should only pay you $10,000 so you are both held responsible,” said Chief Anthony Holloway.

The chief says if you charge victims with a crime, they won’t report it or they’ll lie about leaving their keys inside.

St. Pete Police say recent stats show 70 percent of stolen cars had the keys left inside, making them easy for the taking.

Shore Acres is just one of many neighborhoods targeted by car thieves. And people we talked to there say victims shouldn’t be blamed.

“Shore Acres certainly doesn’t have a solution for it. But there really does have to be something with the juvenile justice system, because the current situation is not working,” said David Delrahim, Shore Acres neighborhood President.

Newton says this bill doesn’t mean he isn’t holding the car thieves accountable.

In last year’s session, he backed a bill that upped sentences for chronic car thieves.