Senate passes bill to combat motor vehicle theft

Staff writerFebruary 18, 2014 

Vehicle theft is a substantial problem throughout Washington and according to one lawmaker, the legislature needs to take action to ban the possession of shaved keys to help curb the problem.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, to make the possession of shaved keys a gross misdemeanor passed out of the Senate Tuesday. The bill would make possession of one to ten altered keys a gross misdemeanor, with each additional set of shaved keys a separate crime.

Right now, the mere possession of altered keys isn’t grounds enough for arrest. Instead, the possession of shaved keys and other motor vehicle theft tools such as slim jims and picklocks, doesn’t constitute a crime. Instead, law enforcement officers must prove intent to use the altered keys to commit burglary or vehicle theft when charging an individual with possession of one of the tools.

But Padden and others say the only use for altered keys is to commit a crime.

“There’s no legitimate use for the possession of a shaved key,” Padden said. “Their sole purpose is for criminal activity.”

Shaved keys are altered or cut to fit a variety of locks apart from their intended one. The use of a shaved key is one of the more popular ways burglars break into homes and thieves steal cars. Law enforcement officials who spoke in favor of the legislation at a public hearing said that the bill is necessary to help combat the growing number of auto thefts.

Larry Haskell of the Spokane County Prosecutor's Office said that auto vehicle theft is specifically a “substantial problem in the Spokane area”, where he and Padden are from, and that in many instances, shaved keys are the tool of choice for thieves.

Opponents to the legislation said the mere possession of a shaved key shouldn’t be the sole determining factor for charging a person with a gross misdemeanor. Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said that possession alone shouldn’t be grounds for arrest.

“There’s no doubt about the criminality of this one instrument,” Kline said. But I’m “in favor of a rational approach to crime.”

According to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, there were over 1,700 motor vehicle thefts in Tacoma and more than 1,900 residential burglaries in the last 12 months.

The legislation “won’t solve the auto theft problem, but it is one tool,” Padden said.

Senate Bill 6010 passed out of the Senate Tuesday in a 35-12 vote. It now heads to the House for consideration.

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