Editorial: Should tempting thieves get you ticketed?

Editorial Board • Feb 18, 2019 at 1:56 PM

If you leave your keys in an unattended car in Birmingham, Ala., you could find a ticket waiting for you. Should Kingsport and Sullivan County do likewise?

Last year, a car was stolen nearly every day in Kingsport. There were 314 car thefts in the city and another 187 in the county. And there was more than one auto burglary per day in Kingsport last year.

“In the vast majority of motor vehicle thefts, the vehicle that was stolen had either been left unlocked with the key in the vehicle, oftentimes with the key actually in the ignition and the vehicle running, or the suspect had been allowed easy access to the vehicle’s key in an unsecured or minimally secured location,” said Tom Patton, public information officer for the Kingsport Police Department.

There is a cost to society when law enforcement officers investigate auto thefts or burglaries. Last year there were 501 vehicle burglaries in Kingsport and 162 in the county.

If someone leaves valuables in an unlocked car, or leaves an unattended and unlocked car with the keys in the ignition, they are partly to blame when a car is burglarized or stolen because otherwise, the crime would not likely have happened. In some communities, vehicle owners can pay a price for that negligence.

According to the FBI, vehicle thefts have been trending downward in the 25 years since they peaked at 1.7 million in 1991, falling 46 percent to 765,484 in 2016. Motor vehicles were stolen at a rate of 118 per 50,000 people in 2017, virtually unchanged from 237.3 in 2016 but down 24.7 percent from 2008.

That means Kingsport has nearly three times the national rate of auto thefts, which means residents are paying an inordinate amount for city police to investigate them. It also impacts insurance rates for all of us, not just the negligent.

It is a violation of a Birmingham city ordinance to leave your keys in the car while it is unattended. Police say that in 25 percent of cars stolen, the owner had left the keys in the vehicle. They also found that for car break-ins, 90 percent of victims admit to leaving the doors unlocked or don’t recall locking the door.

Lt. Peter Williston of the Birmingham Police Department said that if people don’t take the simple step of locking their car to protect themselves, they will issue a ticket “because it only takes a second to steal the car, but it’s hours of investigating a crime that should have never happened.”

Only a month into 2019, 34 vehicles were stolen and 36 burglarized in Kingsport. There were 13 thefts and 13 burglaries in the county. Again, most victims left unlocked doors and keys in the vehicle or cell phones and purses on seats or floorboards in plain view instead of in the trunk and out of sight.

Two of the more brazen cases involved unattended vehicles left running. On Jan. 16 at a West Stone Drive market, a man went inside to pay for fuel, then exited to find a woman driving his Civic away from the pumps, nearly striking him. And on Jan. 28 on West Valley Drive, a resident left her car warming outside as she prepared for work. About five minutes later, she heard the vehicle leaving, then looked out to find it missing.

Considering these high rates of auto theft and burglary, should the city adopt an ordinance allowing police to ticket vehicle owners who invite crime by leaving keys or valuables in an unlocked vehicle?

Let us know what you think at letters@timesnews.net.