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County legislator seeks stiffer punishment for car break-ins

Car break-ins are often prosecuted as misdemeanors and don't hold criminals accountable for one of the city's most pervasive crimes, Erie County Legislator Peter Savage said Wednesday.

Savage said he wants the "car pops" prosecuted as felonies.

"The last thing someone wants is to wake up in the morning and find their windows smashed," the Buffalo Democrat said.

But it happens all the time.

Some 3,801 cars were broken into in Buffalo 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.

District Attorney John Flynn agreed that prosecutors and police need more tools to address a crime that takes a lot of manpower but often results in weak outcomes.

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.

"Residents have a right to feel safe," he said. "Residents have a right to a quality of life."

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.

A resolution asking the state to include car break-ins as burglaries will be submitted to the County Legislature on Thursday. If approved, certified copies would go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and members of Western New York delegation.

Savage said State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, has already expressed in sponsoring the bill.

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