City combats older vehicle thefts with new ordinances

Posted October 22, 2013 at 11:00 pm

By LESLIE COLLINS
Northeast News
October 23, 2013

“We’re just trying to keep up. This has really become a problem,” said South Patrol Sgt. Rodney Gentry who works in the property crimes section.

That problem began on Aug. 28, 2012, when the Missouri legislature passed House Bill 1150, changing the requirements for disposing of inoperable vehicles. Individuals can now sell a nonfunctioning vehicle that’s 10 years and older for scrap without a title or bill of sale. Before the law change, a vehicle had to be 20 years or older.

“When it’s easier to dispose of vehicles that are 10 years or older, it makes it easier for abuse to occur, and that has occurred,” said Kansas City City Council member Scott Wagner.

In 2012, from January to Oct. 16, 2,316 vehicles were stolen in Kansas City. By 2013, the number of stolen vehicles increased by 270, and 70 percent of the stolen vehicles were 10 years old or older. The total estimated loss in 2013 was $10.8 million, and that’s on the low end, Gentry said.

“We are dealing with a widespread problem of cars being stolen from the side of highways, apartment complexes and even out of people’s personal residences,” Gentry said.

In several cases, vehicles have been pulverized for scrap before the owner has a chance to report the vehicle stolen, said Gentry. In one case, a stolen vehicle was destroyed at a secondary metal recycler within 14 minutes.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the theft of 10-year-old or older cars on both sides of the state,” said Missouri Highway Patrol Corporal Nate Bradley.

St. Louis police reported a 37 percent uptick in stolen vehicles since the state law passed, Gentry said, and other cities across the U.S. are reporting similar problems.

One man with an older truck got a flat tire about a block away from his Kansas City home. He walked to a nearby junk yard to purchase a tire and when he returned, his truck was missing. It had been towed by a rogue tow truck driver and sold to a salvage yard, Bradley said. By the time he recovered his truck, the engine and transmission had already been stripped, Bradley said.

“His only mode of transportation was destroyed and he was left holding the bag. That’s a shame,” Bradley said.

To combat vehicle thefts, the Kansas City City Council passed two ordinances Oct. 17. The first ordinance requires secondary metal recyclers to log daily transactions into a third party database called Leads Online, which provides instant access to information for law enforcement. Law enforcement statewide share the database and are able to type in multiple queries to build their case. Not only can law enforcement investigate leads and look for patterns in the database, the instant access to information also cuts down on the number of hours spent investigating a potential crime.

The second ordinance requires all secondary metal recyclers to hold a vehicle, which hasn’t already been crushed, for 72 hours before they can trade, shred, melt, crush, dispose of or alter the vehicle in any way. Prior to the ordinance’s passage, only salvage yards had to adhere to the 72-hour wait period. The wait period will give the Kansas City Police Department more time to investigate a stolen vehicle and return the vehicle intact to the rightful owner.

Chasitie Walden of Midwest Scrap Management said the 72-hour wait period could put a burden on secondary metal recyclers.

“Salvage yards have the ability to park cars and let them sit for days,” she said. “Scrap yards do not necessarily have that ability (due to lack of space). This would create a huge disadvantage for businesses in Kansas City, Mo.”

Scrap yards are not in the business of storing cars, and if a scrap yard runs out of space, they’ll have to turn customers away, Walden said. Those same customers will go elsewhere, including to surrounding cities.

East Patrol Community Interaction Officer Jason Cooley said that’s the second time he’s heard that argument.

“What they’re essentially saying is, ‘I want to continue to make money off of stolen property,’” Cooley said. “It’s an epidemic and I think we need to pay attention to that.”