By Sen. Howie Morales / Albuquerque Journal
More New Mexicans are becoming victims of auto theft every day, especially in Albuquerque, and it is a deeply unsettling and disruptive experience. But, now, it is even taking lives.
A wonderful 14-year-old, Shaylee Boling, was tragically killed in Albuquerque earlier this month when police say ruthless car thieves crashed their stolen auto into the vehicle in which Shaylee was riding with her mother and 3-year-old brother, who were severely injured.
It is an intolerable trend that shows no signs of slowing. Elected officials and law enforcement must not wait to take strong action to combat car theft.
Albuquerque now has the highest rate of auto theft in the entire United States, according to the most recent report by U.S. New & World Report. No. 1 for car theft in the country.
Over 8,500 vehicles were reported stolen across our state in 2015 and 6,000 occurred in Albuquerque alone.
How much havoc does having your car stolen cause? Families depend on their cars to get to school and work, to travel to medical care and treatment, and to go about their normal daily lives.
People are faced with enormous burdens when they suddenly lose their vehicles to theft. The time lost, and the financial and psychological burdens of this rampant crime on the people of our state is inestimable.
A bipartisan group of legislators, including Rep. Monica Youngblood, Rep. Patrico Ruilobo and Rep. Bill Rehm, all of Bernalillo County, have joined together to push for a law to create important new tools that will help law enforcement to substantially reduce auto theft in New Mexico.
We recently introduced the legislation at the State Capitol alongside State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and detective Ken Miller of the Albuquerque Police Department.
Many car thieves try to sell their stolen cars to auto recyclers to get cash. Senate Bill 139 and its companion, House Bill 177, will help stem the tide of auto theft across the state by partnering with automotive recyclers to help catch the criminals engaging in it.
It creates a system for auto recyclers to verify with the state Motor Vehicle Department, at the time of transaction, that the vehicle being considered for purchase is not, in fact, stolen.
The bills will strengthen law enforcement’s ability to gather and share information about potentially stolen vehicles.
Our legislation also will aid investigations into and recovery of stolen vehicles.
Preventing and reducing auto theft by exposing criminals and strengthening penalties is critical. The high risk of being identified at the point of sale, in addition to the profits vs. penalty ratio, will swiftly deter many of these criminals.
We know that it will work. Similar recent programs in other states have provided swift and significant results.
In North Carolina, the Division of Motor Vehicles’ License and Theft Bureau received 41 reports of stolen vehicles in the system’s first month of implementation. As a result, 22 of those stolen vehicles were stopped from being sold to salvage yards and 19 were confiscated following sales. The Bureau also recovered 33 vehicles.
Enacting car theft legislation will be a victory for New Mexico, and especially the residents of Bernalillo County who have been hard hit by vehicle theft.
When we consider the scope of the problem in New Mexico and the terrible consequences car theft carries, we cannot afford to wait.
New Mexico ranks poorly out of 50 states in so many important categories, such as unemployment, job growth, student achievement, child poverty and child well-being. Rolling back our current status as worst for car theft is one area we can, and must, begin to improve substantially, even in this year’s meeting of the Legislature.
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