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The value of cars being stolen in Denver. More than 85% of stolen cars are worth less than $25,000. 

Colorado’s dubious distinction as the No. 1 state in the nation for auto theft is far worse than just an embarrassment. It is “devastating.” That’s how former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey puts it in today’s Perspective section in The Gazette.

Morrissey, a career-long prosecutor who’s now a criminal justice fellow at Colorado’s Common Sense Institute, co-authored a new crime study on auto theft for the institute with former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. Morrissey recaps the study’s findings in today’s essay, and he makes clear that the astounding rate at which cars and trucks are being stolen in our state is much more than just water-cooler talk or fodder for one-liners. It’s a gut punch.

“There are leaders in this state who do not think motor vehicle theft is a big deal,” Morrissey writes. “They are wrong. When someone steals your car, they steal your livelihood.”

As he goes on to explain, the lower an auto-theft victim is on the income scale, the harder the blow. It typically isn’t the person whose $65,000 SUV is stolen whose life is most upended. It is the breadwinner struggling to make ends meet — and whose ability to do so hinges on an affordable set of wheels that barely registers in the Kelly Blue Book.

“… 85% of the cars being targeted cost $25,000 or less and 63.5% are valued at less than $15,000. These are not cars being driven by the governor or our congressmen. These are cars being driven by everyday, hardworking Coloradans,” Morrissey writes.

“If you live in a rural area, you may not have access to a bus or other transportation options. A stolen car means you lose your job, you cannot take your kids to the doctor, and you cannot get to the grocery store. It is a devastating reality for those who can least afford it.”

And, no, it’s not because of economic circumstances that our state has become a Mecca for car thieves. It’s because our policy makers, in their rush to embrace “justice reform,” have made it easy for car thieves to do their work. Notably, by letting them roam the streets instead of locking them up.

As Morrissey points out, Colorado law was changed in 2014 to reduce the penalties for auto theft — and auto thefts began escalating around that time. Then in 2021, another “reform” bill passed making it a misdemeanor to steal a car valued $2,000 or less. It previously was a felony to steal a car valued $1,000 or more.

Colorado now is confronted with the consequences. It’s up to lawmakers to repair the damage they’ve done — and clamp down on car thieves anew.

And while they’re at it, they can ignore defenders of the new, soft-on-crime status quo who claim tougher laws don’t deter car thieves. That’s actually a straw man.

Morrissey quotes Commander Mike Greenwell with the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority: “97% of the people who have been arrested in the last three years for auto theft have multiple arrests for auto theft.”

The point of tougher laws is to keep known, seasoned car thieves off the street rather than letting them back out through revolving-door justice so they can steal and steal again. Whether or not stiffer penalties will deter them is beside the point; they cannot steal your car from your driveway if they are in jail.

Denver Gazette Editorial Board

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