Florida state Rep. Wengay Newton (D–St. Petersburg) is so tough on auto theft that he wants to punish the crime’s victims as well.
Newton has introduced a bill that would make it a criminal offense to have your car stolen if you leave it unlocked with the keys inside. His legislation would make this a second-degree misdemeanor; violators would face fines of up to $500 and jail time of up to 60 days.
But only if the person who steals the car is a minor. Having the same unlocked car stolen by an adult would not be a criminal offense.
“We have a lot of juveniles getting access to vehicles unlawfully. However, these juveniles are not using guns or force. These vehicles are pretty much just left running with keys in them,” Newton told WTSP. He claims his bill would “close this floodgate of a crime of opportunity.”
Leaving one’s car unlocked can already lead to a citation in Florida, but a Tampa Bay Times analysis found that these are rarely issued.
Not surprisingly, this proposal has prompted some pushback from people who say it’s unfair to crime victims. That includes a number of law enforcement officials.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate to charge a victim for a crime,” Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter told the Tampa Bay Times. “When we’re trying to build trust in the community, it wouldn’t really breed a culture of trust between victims and law enforcement.” St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway expressed similar sentiments, pointing out to the paper that “people won’t report it, or they’ll lie to us.”
Newton insists his bill wouldn’t punish real victims. “I had a lady follow me after a panel, saying let me get this straight, Representative, you want to punish me because they steal my car?” Newton said to WTSP. “I said no ma’am, only when you give it away.”