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Aurora City Councilman proposes mandatory jail sentences for car thieves

Measure would apply to cases where the vehicle taken was worth less than $2,000 and the case tried in municipal court.

AURORA, Colo. — In the face of climbing numbers of car thefts, an Aurora City Council member on Thursday unveiled a measure that would require mandatory jail time for some offenders.

The proposal from Councilman Dustin Zvonek would require a minimum 60-day jail sentence for first-time offenders – and a minimum 120-day sentence for repeat offenders. It would also require jail time for people who don’t show up for court, and it would establish a fund to help victims pay the costs of getting their cars back from the impound lots where they are stored if they are recovered.

“It's become an incredibly challenging problem for our community,” Zvonek told 9Wants to Know.

According to figures from the Colorado Department of Public Safety, 20,707 cars were stolen in the state in 2019. That number jumped to 28,159 in 2020 and to 36,965 in 2021.

This year is on pace for another increase.

“This is our way to, to send a signal as a city that this isn't going to be the place to steal a car,” Zvonek said. “We're going to try to be the most punitive city in the state when it comes to punishing people who continually victimize our community.”

It’s not clear, however, how much reach the measure, if approved by the Aurora City Council, would actually have. That’s because it would affect auto theft cases only if they are prosecuted in Aurora Municipal Court – those where the value of the stolen vehicle is less than $2,000. Theft cases involving cars worth more than that are prosecuted in state court, and the Aurora City Council does not have the power to change Colorado’s sentencing guidelines.

Still, Zvonek argued that the measure would yield results.

“It's harder to steal newer cars – higher-end cars tend to have more security systems on them, features that make them more challenging to steal,” he said.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
New cars (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Cars that fall under the $2,000 threshold, he argued, are targeted by thieves who know if they get caught they’re likely to make a low bail and be back on the street quickly. However, he could not provide numbers showing how many of the approximately 5,000 cars stolen in Aurora last year would fall under the bill.

The measure would also attempt to crack down on the theft of essential car parts, such as catalytic converters.

If approved by the city council, it could be in force by mid-August. If that happens, Zvonek said he believes it’ll make a difference – not only in the number of cars being stolen.

“People aren't stealing cars just to go for a joy rides,” he said. “They're stealing cars to commit other crimes. And so by cracking down a motor vehicle theft, we really have an opportunity to prevent other crimes from happening in the future.”

Contact 9Wants to Know investigator Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: kevin.vaughan@9news.com or 303-871-1862.

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