MODESTO — City Council members on Monday supported a proposed ordinance that would require Modesto car dealers to put anti-theft devices on easy-to-steal vehicles before they are sold to customers.
The council’s Safety and Communities committee gave the green light for the Police Department to bring the ordinance to the full council next month. Car dealers would need to install the anti-theft devices on certain vehicles before the transfer of ownership to customers.
Only cars and trucks on the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s annual list of top 10 stolen vehicles would be affected. Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll said those vehicles – typically older models – are often stolen locally because their weak ignitions are easily turned by makeshift keys.
Carroll said he doesn’t know of any other cities with such an ordinance.
Councilman Dave Lopez applauded the chief for putting the city in the forefront of combating auto theft. Councilmen Dave Geer and John Gunderson also supported the proposal.
If the ordinance becomes law, auto dealerships, vehicle dismantlers, tow services and auction yards would be required to install the anti-theft devices on specified vehicles that are sold. The newest vehicle on the list is the 2010 Toyota Corolla, and the oldest are 1988 Toyota pickups. The law would not apply to a person tacking a “for sale” sign onto his or her car.
Carroll said some of the cars on the list, such as the 1994 Honda Accord, are often purchased by low-income buyers because of their durability. But younger car thieves target them because they are easy to take. “We have seen these cars stolen over and over again,” the chief said.
The typical anti-theft device is a hidden switch the car owner uses to disable the fuel delivery or ignition system, so the vehicle can’t be started by someone else. Carroll said many devices are priced from $50 to $70. They may be purchased for as little as $16 or as much as $110.
Since 2003, the National Insurance Crime Bureau has ranked Modesto as first or second in the nation for auto thefts per capita in every year except 2006. Last year, the Modesto area topped the bureau’s national list with 817 stolen cars per 100,000 people.
David Halvorson, owner of American Chevrolet in Modesto, said the anti-theft devices would be an unnecessary expense that would be passed on to car buyers. “I don’t know of any anti-theft device that a professional car thief can’t beat within 30 seconds,” said Halvorson, whose McHenry Avenue dealership is outside the city boundary. “This legislation would only harm the consumer. If consumers want to put on additional anti-theft equipment, that should be their choice.”
Used-car dealers in Modesto would be most affected by the ordinance. None spoke at Monday’s committee meeting. Carroll said sophisticated car thieves target more expensive automobiles. He believes the devices will stop younger criminals who tend to steal older cars.
On the bureau’s list of most-stolen vehicles are the 1994 Honda Accord, 1998 Honda Civic, 1991 Toyota Camry, 1994 Acura Integra, 2004 Chevrolet pickup, 2006 Ford pickup, 1994 Nissan Sentra, 2010 Toyota Corolla, 1997 Nissan Altima and 1988 Toyota pickup.
Under the proposed ordinance, dealers would be required to monitor the current top 10 list and distribute the Police Department’s auto-theft pamphlets to customers who buy the designated vehicles.
Crime statistics for the first half of this year show auto thefts were down 32 percent from 2012. Last year, officials saw a huge spike in the numbers.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.