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Proposal for stiffer punishment for car break-ins gains traction in Albany

It took Erie County Legislator Peter Savage less than a day to gather bill sponsors in the State Senate for his proposal to have car break-ins prosecuted as felonies.

Most “car popping” or “smash-and-grab” crimes currently are prosecuted as misdemeanors.

Savage announced his proposal a week ago Wednesday. By the next day, he had bipartisan sponsorship commitments from state senators Tim Kennedy and Chris Jacobs. In the following week his proposal had a bill number.

“They each reached out after seeing it in the press,” said Savage, D-Buffalo, who credited Jacobs, a Republican, and Kennedy, a Democrat, with picking up the issue so quickly. “I’m pleased we already have something rolling in the Senate within days of going public.”

He expects a State Assembly member will agree to sponsor the bill soon, he said. Savage added that retail and business district leaders have also spoken in favor of his proposal urging a change in state law, which he submitted to the County Legislature.

In Buffalo, 3,801 cars were broken into over the last two years, resulting in 147 arrests, according to the Erie County District Attorney's Office. Of those arrested, 13 individuals were repeat offenders. One defendant was arrested as many as eight times.

Car break-ins are currently prosecuted as larcenies. If less than $1,000 in personal property is stolen from a vehicle, the crime is considered a misdemeanor petit larceny.

Savage said the value of the stolen items often weighs far less on car owners than the sense of personal violation and the inconvenience and expense associated with repairing the damage to a vehicle.

Elevating car break-ins to burglaries, which are felonies, would serve as a greater deterrent to criminals, he said. Currently, burglaries only apply to buildings, not cars.

Several other states – including Florida, New Jersey and Ohio – have passed legislation to include motor vehicles in its definition of burglary. Pennsylvania's law keeps car break-ins as larcenies, but raises the crime to a felony for repeat offenders, Flynn said.

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