By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Aurora, Colo.) Aurora's toughest-on-crime council member, Dustin Zvonek, wants to throw car thieves in jail. The council voted Monday to approve his plan to create a mandatory jail sentence for people who steal cars or car parts.
Zvonek wants to make Aurora known as the worst place in Colorado to get caught stealing a car. He sponsored a resolution at Monday's City Council meeting to direct staff to create "a comprehensive approach" to combat car and car parts thefts.
According to the resolution, from 2019 to 2021, reported car thefts in Aurora increased 239 percent, from 2,325 to 5,569. This year already is showing a year-to-date increase of 25 percent over last year, with 2920 car thefts.
Catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed 1,556 percent from 2019 to 2021 in Colorado, according to the resolution. In 2021, 2,485 Coloradans became victims of catalytic converter theft.
The resolution directs the City Council to:
· Review city code and consider amending it to require actual jail time for those convicted of motor vehicle theft and other offenses in the city for cases prosecuted in Aurora Municipal Court.
· Direct the city manager to push the Colorado Legislature to reverse course on reducing penalties for certain crimes and increase penalties for motor vehicle theft and other offenses in the next session in 2023.
The resolution directs staff:
· To continually review sentences for those convicted of motor vehicle theft, theft of motor vehicle parts, and failure to appear in court.
· Pursue enhanced prosecution and sentencing for habitual offenders and those failing to appear in court, including reimbursement of actual costs for victims and witnesses.
· Devise a plan to reduce the victim and witness attendance until trial.
· Allow victims to access restitution earlier in the process, including reimbursement for impound fees and other costs.
· Develop a more robust plan to ensure the court hears victims' voices.
· Provide more resources and flexibility to Aurora police to apprehend those committing crimes.
· Research and develop a plan to implement a city "crime victim fund" to offset costs and expenses for victims of property crimes.
Current law provides sentences of up to one year in jail for car theft and fines of up to $2,650 in Aurora. But many charged with car theft get out of jail on personal recognizance bonds and fail to appear in court.
Mayor Pro Tem Francoise Bergan said the time has come for harsher penalties. “Don’t steal cars!” she exclaimed. “It’s freaking illegal.” She said car thieves have been getting off easy “and the public is sick of it.”
Council members Juan Marcano, Crystal Murillo and Alison Coombs expressed concerns that the ordinance does not add public defenders to go along with the stiffer penalties. Coffman said stiffer penalties make good politics but don’t always translate into less crime.
Aurora’s public defender, Doug Wilson, said he believes the stiffer penalties aren’t constitutional. He said cracking down on offenders who fail to appear will cost the city money.
Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown said he supports the resolution and space is available at the detention center for offenders.
When Zvonek announced he would sponsor the bill earlier this month, he said "bold action" is needed. "This plan, supported and enforced aggressively by law enforcement agencies throughout the city and counties, will send a very clear message that the City of Aurora is not the city for offenders to choose to commit motor vehicle theft."
In March, Zvonek sponsored a resolution that states public safety is the council's top priority.
City to create impound lot
Also, Monday, the city council voted to approve a resolution by Councilmember Juan Marcano to create a city-owned impound lot.
Such a lot could waive fees for victims of auto theft and make other accommodations private impounds lots do not.
According to Marcano, people recovering stolen vehicles paid almost $1 million in the past year to M&M Impound and Towing. M&M runs Aurora's only impound lot, and the state regulates its fees, including $125 for towing, $35 notice, and $30 for storage.
Aurora police can waive impound fees on a case-by-case basis, but to do so for all car theft victims isn't financially feasible under the contract between M&M Impound and Towing and the city, Marcano's resolution says.