House passes vehicle theft bill to extend statute of limitations

A measure aimed to help reduce the number of car thefts in Washington state passed the House on an unanimous vote last week in Olympia.

House Bill 2354 will give law enforcement more time to investigate auto theft by extending the statute of limitations from three years to six years for trafficking in stolen vehicles and auto parts, according to a House Democrats media release.

“This bill will help dedicated law enforcement officers complete their investigations on complex auto theft rings, which often times take years to solve because tracking down the stolen parts can be a very lengthy process,” said state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, the bill’s prime sponsor.

While the value of stolen auto parts reduced about 20 percent from 2010 ($3,595,547) to 2011 ($2,887,935), auto theft and trafficking of auto parts continues to be a problem in the state.

In fact, last summer, the Seattle Times reported that auto theft rose 18.8 percent in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area in 2010 compared with 2009, and that, overall, auto thefts in Washington climbed nearly 10 percent over that same period.

“We need to give police the time to solve these crimes not only because of the complexity, but also because of the damaging effect car theft has on people," said Rep. Katrina Asay, R-Milton, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. "For most people, a car is one of the biggest financial investments they will ever make and a theft can be devastating. People need to feel safe in their communities and this is an important step in the right direction.”

This legislation comes at a time when the Washington State Patrol's Stolen Vehicle Task Force has been reduced by 50 percent. With half the manpower gone, the extension of time provided by the bill will help ensure that officers have the resources they need.

Orwall’s measure will not change current sentencing guidelines, but it will help in the investigations of stolen property and will hold criminals accountable. Both the Washington Auto Prevention Task Force and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs strongly support the bill.

The legislation has been sent to the Senate and is likely to be heard in committee this week.

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