New bill could address rising auto thefts locally

Cars sit at a stop light in Medford (Georgia Lawson/News 10)

A bill to make it easier to prosecute auto thefts is a step closer to being signed into law after state legislators voiced their support at a hearing on Tuesday.

House Bill 2328 was introduced to close a loophole in current auto theft legislation, which relies heavily on a suspect's confession in order to prosecute them for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

Currently being reviewed by the House Committee on Judiciary, if passed by the legislature, it could affect a large number of people locally, with car thefts on the rise in Medford.

From 2017 to 2018, car thefts in Medford increased 7.9 percent.

"We really don't know exactly why," said Lt. Mike Budreau with the Medford Police Department. "Sometimes things like that fluctuate a bit. Overall, our crime stats were down for the city. This is one of the unusual situations where crimes were up."

On top of that, finding the suspect for these crimes can also be difficult, and the numbers of suspects caught reflects that.

"It's lower than other crimes. Our clearance rate for other crimes is usually 50-60 %, and 40% is lower, and the reason is we find a lot of these vehicles abandoned and unoccupied," Lt. Budreau said.

For that reason, if the bill passes, there may still be challenges in getting suspects to the prosecution phase.

Medford resident Juan Perez had his car stolen, and getting it back - and fixing the damage done by the thief - was no easy process.

"A stolen car is a stolen car. It's hard to get back honestly. Some people I'm sure don't even get their cars back, but what I'm surprised about, you know, is one of my coworkers was telling me, that car could be anywhere by now. That guy could've taken it and gone to California by now," Perez said.

According to Medford PD, the suspect is often a repeat offender, and the car theft is often one element of a larger crime. That means more prosecutions could make a dent in auto thefts and related offenses locally.

As for Perez, he decided that prosecuting the suspect after recovering the car was too complicated at the time. However, for some, the new bill may change that.

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