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Editorial: Breaking into cars should be felony

Editorial: Breaking into cars should be felony

It is personal invasion worthy of burglary charges
Editorial: Breaking into cars should be felony
Photographer: Shutterstock

Look in someone’s car and you’ll probably get a better snapshot about the individual and their personality than you might ever get by walking into their houses.

To many of us, the vehicles we drive are as close as we come to having our own true personal space.

We spend hours in them, often alone, driving to work or just around town. We eat in them, go shopping in them, talk to our friends in them, pack the families for vacations in them, conduct business in them. Some of us even name them. When a car dies, it’s like losing a pet.

More than that, our cars are often our most valuable possession other than our homes, considering the price of the vehicle, plus the cost of annual maintenance, repairs and insurance.

Sometimes, we become so comfortable with our vehicles that we leave valuable personal items like laptops, cell phones, wallets, purses and important documents lying around in plain sight, just like we do at home. 

It’s because our vehicles are such a large expense and because they have become so associated with our personal space that state laws about breaking into them need to be upgraded.

It’s offensive enough when someone breaks into our car when we’re away from home; it’s even more invasive and frightening when they do it while our cars are parked in our driveways.

Not only do we lose the cost of the items stolen in a vehicle break-in, we also might have to go through the inconvenience and cost of repairing a lock or broken window, which can run from $200-$450.

A bill (S6504) proposed in Albany this session by two state senators, one Democrat and one Republican, would elevate the crime of breaking into a vehicle from a misdemeanor larceny charge to a felony burglary charge, putting vehicles on the same criminal level as buildings when it comes to break-ins.

Several other states, including New Jersey, Ohio and Florida, already treat car break-ins as burglaries, while Pennsylvania ups the penalty to a felony for repeat offenders.

In addition to elevating the charge for break-ins to third-degree burglary, a D-felony, the bill also would make it second-degree burglary, a C-felony, to enter a vehicle with a gun or explosives, to display a deadly weapon or to harm someone inside the vehicle — the same charge as if the offender entered a building under those conditions.

Third-degree burglary carries a maximum prison sentence of 7 years, depending on conditions and whether the individual is a repeat offender. Second-degree burglary, a violent felony, carries a prison sentence of 3.5 to 15 years.

The measure is being endorsed by the district attorney in Erie County as a way to stop the vehicle burglars from passing through the legal system’s revolving door because the punishment for the crime is so light.

Supporters also believe making vehicle break-ins a felony could serve as a deterrent to the thousands of “smash-and-grab” crimes and give New York vehicle owners a bit more peace of mind.

As of Thursday, the bill still needed an Assembly sponsor. But its Senate sponsors said they were confident that they could get one and that they could push the bill forward quickly once it’s been introduced in both houses.

This is a common-sense law that would further protect New Yorkers from invasive crimes like vehicle break-ins. It deserves passage.

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