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Bill aims to penalize car theft victim if leaving keys inside car leads to juvenile stealing car

Posted at 7:27 PM, Dec 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-14 07:31:06-05

Imagine having your car stolen by a teenager because you left your keys in the car and then getting charged for making it easier to get your car stolen? That proposal was filed in the State House and Senate.

Police agencies say it's happening every day; juveniles are going car to car until they find one that's unlocked and if the car happens to have keys inside, it's gone. 

"They'll do 20, 30, 40 of these in a night," said Lieutenant Robert Keating, with the Delray Beach Police Department, talking about how many cars juveniles will get into because of unlocked doors. 

Last year Shannon Montgomery and her husband became victims, both in the same night. 

"My car, I left one of the doors unlocked and I had kept my husband's spare key in my center console in case of an emergency and so they found that, took my husband's car, and he also had one of my keys, so they came back and took my car," said Montgomery. 

Montgomery believes young kids stole her and husband's car right from their Boynton Beach driveway because they left spare keys in each other's cars. Lieutenant Keating said it's happening all over Palm Beach County.

"99 percent of these cases are involving the keys, or the key fobs being inside the cars and it's not stopping," said Keating. 

Both Montgomery and her husband's cars were found days later abandoned. Now, a bill introduced in the state legislature wants to punish people like her, who make it easier for juveniles to steal cars. 

"I can't imagine having to go through what I went through and then worry about facing charges," added Montgomery.

The bill aims to deter juvenile car thefts by charging the car theft victim with a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and up to $500 in fines if the juvenile car theft was a result of leaving keys inside the car. 

"Certainly if this actually becomes law there certainly could be challenges to it," said attorney Michelle Suskauer. 

Juvenile auto theft arrests in Palm Beach County increased from 60 to 90 from 2015 to 2016. They increased from 1,760 to 2,472 from 2015 to 2016 statewide. 

Lieutenant Keating said the car theft is then the gateway to other crimes.

"They continue to commit other crimes with those [stolen cars] whether it's residential burglaries, robberies, and we're seeing that very consistently," said Keating.