OLYMPIA The penalty for committing multiple vehicle prowls is about to get tougher.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Thursday declaring that second-degree vehicle prowls will be considered a Class C felony after the third time a suspect commits the crime, and every time after that.
Second-degree vehicle prowling in the first two instances is a gross misdemeanor.
“I think that’s wonderful,” Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said. “We have so many vehicle prowls, and that’s the trouble – these people go out and do them and do them and do them, and we go out and arrest them and arrest them and arrest them. It’s not the court’s fault; there’s only so much they can do with a misdemeanor.
“I hope this helps deter these guys, because we’ve got offenders we’ve probably arrested four or five times.”
The new law could carry weight in towns such as Brewster, where the city police department spent last weekend responding to 10 reported vehicle prowls.
The police chief, however, was more skeptical about how the new law would affect crime.
“Well, it’s news to me. I’ve never seen it before,” Chief Ron Oules said of the bill. “I think it’s OK, but I don’t see that it’s going to change a lot. You could tell the court systems to start actually holding these people accountable to the laws that are on the books.
“If the legislators and the politicians want to pass new laws to try to prevent crime, they need to pass some laws that allow us to use evidence that’s available and pass laws that allow us to gain evidence much easier instead of continually restricting us on what we collect and our ability to use what we do collect,” Oules said. “That’s what would help law enforcement.”
For instance, he said, people who are repeatedly caught driving with a suspended license are required by law to be sentenced to jail time, but that rarely happens in his experience.
On May 11, the first two prowls in Brewster were reported early in the morning 11 at the same location on South Fourth Street. The driver’s side window had been broken on the first vehicle and stolen were a stereo, cellphone and subwoofers, according to the incident log filed with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.
On-duty officer Mike Hartnett fielded another call at 9:55 a.m. on South Seventh Street at the baseball field, where three vehicles were found with windows broken.
At 11:15 a.m. another call was made from South Seventh Street, followed by another at the same location at 11:16 a.m.
The next vehicle prowl was reported at 1:57 a.m. May 12 from South Fourth Street, and came with a description of two male suspects, both wearing hooded sweatshirts and walking toward the school.
Three more prowl reports followed that morning, all before 2:30 a.m. on the same street.
Oules said the prowls are still under investigation.
“Usually the same individuals are responsible for the major majority of vehicle prowls in each area,” he said.
Many cases of identity theft begin with vehicle prowls, Rogers said, when people leave their wallets, purses or bills in the car.
“Be very careful what you leave in the car. We tell people, ‘Lock your cars, don’t leave anything of value in it and especially visible.’
“If these guys really want to get in and do it, that’s what’s going to happen.”
The bill was proposed by Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, as a means to mitigate the rise of vehicle prowls among his own constituency.
A gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or a combination of both. A Class C felony carries a possible sentence of five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or a combination of both.
Rogers added that a felony counts against your driver license points system.
“A person is guilty of vehicle prowling in the second degree if, with intent to commit a crime against a person or property therein, he or she enters or remains unlawfully in a vehicle other than a motor home” or a boat that contains sleeping and eating quarters, the law states.