The Texas House of Representatives reported that Rep. Vicki Truitt (Keller) joined forces with police chiefs from Texas’ six largest cities to sign a letter imploring Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to put pressure on Senate leaders to grant a hearing for Truitt’s HB 151 that would enhance the penalty on auto burglary.
HB 151 passed out of the Texas House of Representatives on March 30, with huge bipartisan support (102 for and 43 against). The bill would reinstate a felony penalty for burglary of a motor vehicle (BMV). Representatives Anchia (Dallas) and Pena (Edinburg) joined Truitt and the chiefs in signing the letter to Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. HB 151 was jointly authored by Truitt, Pena, and Representatives Dan Branch (Dallas), Linda Harper-Brown (Irving) and Roberto Alonzo (Dallas).
“HB 151 has been ignored in the Senate for exactly one month. We are calling on Lt. Governor Dewhurst to use his influence and clout to give this issue the attention it deserves,” Truitt said. “The members of the House overwhelmingly supported this bill, and the law enforcement officers and prosecutors of Texas, not to mention the thousands of innocent victims of this crime, are mystified as to why the Senate has apparently decided to do nothing. We have only a couple weeks left in this legislative session, and we can’t afford to stand by and wait any longer.”
Although a majority of crimes have shown to be on a statistical decrease over the past few years, car burglaries have been constantly and dramatically increasing. The growing number of burglaries of motor vehicles is a problem that police forces throughout the state are spending an increasing amount of time trying to combat.
Dollar losses statewide from car burglaries have grown 123 percent in the past ten years, according to the Department of Public Safety’s Uniform Crime Report statistics. These same reports also show that, prior to 1995, when car burglaries were still felony offenses in Texas, the frequency of this crime was declining.
Car burglaries started to increase after the penalty for the crime was reduced by the legislature in 1993, in a move to cut costs and prison over crowding. By 2003, Texans were losing more than $204 million a year to car burglaries.
Several of the chiefs echoed Truitt’s remarks, while emphasizing the circumstances within their own cities. Fort Worth Police Chief Ralph Mendoza said, “Most of these BMVs are committed by criminals who are breaking into dozens of cars a month. Vehicle burglaries cost Fort Worth residents over $5 million in stolen property every year. In addition, it costs victims in terms of inconvenience, repairing broken windows and doors, as well as increased insurance rates.”
Rep. Truitt filed similar legislation during the 78th session of the legislature, but due to the state’s $10 billion budget shortfall in 2003, the legislature was unable to appropriate the additional funds that would be needed for the increased incarceration of offenders. This session, the money was appropriated to cover the cost.
“During the past two years, this crime has touched perhaps as many as 100,000 Texans, with nearly a half a billion dollars in losses,” Truitt said. “We have to start fighting back. The chiefs and district attorneys tell me this is what has to be done to thwart this crime epidemic.”
Truitt was joined at the signing by chiefs Ralph Mendoza of Fort Worth, David Kunkle of Dallas, and Richard Wiles of El Paso. Also attending were deputy chief David Head of San Antonio and assistant chiefs Rudy Landeros of Austin and Vickie King of Houston.
Numerous prosecutors and business leaders also were in attendance and signed their own letter urging the Senate to act.
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