The most frequently searched price range for a used vehicle is under $5,000, but car thieves in Spokane, Washington are only interested in vehicles they may be able to steal. That’s why Spokane’s City Council is considering enacting a new law that would make it a criminal offense to enter a truck or car without the owner’s permission.
If the law is passed, police would be able to detain or cite any person with “vehicle trespass” for illegally entering or remaining inside a car that is not their own. The misdemeanor could involve a $1,000 fine or worse — it could land the offender in jail for a period of up to 90 days.
This law is primarily aimed at repeat property crime offenders, and passing it would give the police an additional way to target these types of criminals. The recent increase in vehicle thefts has been the initial motivator for this law.
“I really think we have to close all the loopholes we can on this, and leave no stone unturned,” said City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear.
With this new law, trespassing in a vehicle would be one step below vehicle prowling, which is the typical charge officers give when they come across suspects in property crimes related to automobiles.
“It’s really hard to catch vehicle prowlers, or vehicle thieves, in the act,” said Spokane police Assistant Chief Justin Lundgren.
As of now, a prowling conviction requires law enforcement to prove that the offender did, in fact, enter the car with criminal intent, and that’s something that can be difficult if there isn’t any damage to the car itself, or if there isn’t a clear attempt to steal what’s inside.
The ultimate goal of Councilwoman Kinnear is to make sure officers are properly equipped to combat Spokane’s increasing car theft problem, which jumped up 20% in 2016.
Overall, Spokane’s vehicle trespass misdemeanor is aimed at anyone who “knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a vehicle belonging to another.” The City Council met to discuss the proposed law at its regular meeting time in City Hall at 6 p.m. on March 13.