A surge in car break-ins throughout California in recent years has one state lawmaker trying to close a loophole in the current law that he and many in law enforcement see as a big part of the problem.
Senator Scott Wiener is a Democrat from Francisco. He introduced legislation this year to amend the state law that requires prosecutors to prove a car was locked before they can file charges against a suspected car burglar.
"It's ridiculous that under current law you can have a video of someone bashing out a car window, but if you can’t prove that the door is locked you may not be able to get an auto burglary conviction," Senator Wiener told the Los Angeles Times.
State law was modified in 2014 with voter approval of Proposition 47, which reduced punishment for certain property crimes, like car burglaries. The intent was to reduce the population in California's overcrowded prisons and lower the number of criminal convictions among low-income and otherwise disadvantaged groups.
Wiener's bill came at the request of San Francisco officials trying to respond to the spike in car burglaries, but he wasn't able to get sufficient support from his colleagues in the Legislature. In fact, the Assembly Appropriations Committee did not take up the bill. Committee chairwoman Lorena Gonzalez, who is a fellow Democrat from San Diego, claimed that the cost of the bill for taxpayers forced a difficult decision. That's despite a study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that Prop 47 was among the changes to state which have contributed to the rise in car burglaries.
On top of the PPIC study, the Legislature did approve nearly $4 million for Bay Area cities struggling to deal with car burglaries that have risen far over the yearly average from the prior eight years.
A voter initiative has qualified for the 2020 ballot and would roll back the reforms that have been a part of Proposition-47. Also affected if the initiative is approved would be Proposition-57 and Assembly Bill-109. Prop-57 was approved in 2016 and increased parole chances for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes. 2011's AB-109 made county jails responsible for housing non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual offenders and required that counties, rather than the state, be responsible for supervising certain felons on parole.
While politicians in the California Legislature remain under pressure to back justice reforms, and the state prison system is still be scrutinized by the federal government, many in law enforcement insist there is no reason someone should have to prove their car was locked before prosecutors can go after suspected burglars.
Wiener remains optimistic that his bill will eventually be passed, since he believes the problem isn't going away anytime soon.