Sunset Hills looks at vehicle tampering ordinance

Law would prohibit entering cars with criminal purpose

Sunset+Hills+looks+at+vehicle+tampering+ordinance

By Lucas Irizarry, Staff Reporter

As car break-ins and theft continue to be a growing issue in St. Louis, Sunset Hills is exploring options to outlaw tampering with vehicles with intent to steal the vehicle or its contents.

The ordinance specifically outlaws entering another person’s vehicle with criminal purpose and tampering with door handles or trunks with the intent to steal.

Chief of Police Stephen Dodge said the ordinance would rely on witnesses or video/photographic proof of tampering happening, and no one could be convicted with an anonymous tip. Dodge said a police investigation would help determine what happened and doorbell cameras are one of the main things police look for when investigating crimes in a neighborhood.

The first reading of the ordinance was Feb. 8 at a Board of Aldermen meeting and while all of the aldermen agreed with its purpose, Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong felt the net cast by the ordinance was too wide and the wording vague.

“I’m concerned about misidentification in terms of fingers being pointed at certain persons that may look different,” Wong said. “It seems like a really low standard. This particular ordinance is vague and then some.”

Wong was the lone no vote on suspending the rules for a second reading of the ordinance, pushing it back to March. The vote was met by contempt from some other aldermen who sided with Dodge and City Attorney Jim Hetlage, believing the ordinance was not vague.

“To quote some of my fellow aldermen, sometimes you just have to trust the experts,” Ward 1 Alderman Joe Stewart said. “If Chief Dodge says this is a tool he needs … and if our Attorney Hetlage says this is going to give the chief the tool he needs why is it we can’t accept that?”

The suspension of rules vote has been discussed and denied three times by the Board of Aldermen, and Wong has been a proponent of keeping it in place. Wong said the month between readings won’t make a difference in this case and he’d like to have a chance to discuss statistics surrounding the racial disparity when casting wide-net crime laws.

“Why don’t we revisit this particular issue and trace racial statistics in terms of what laymen are reporting in terms of who’s jiggling the handles and what actually turns out to have probable cause,” Wong said. “The whole intent of this law is casting a net too broad so we can get people fingerprinted, we can pull them over, we can do whatever.”

Ward 4 Alderman Thompson Price said the intent is to give police some power to stop car-tamperers, as there is currently no mention of it in city code.

“I hope in a month nothing happens to your car or anyone you (Wong) know, this is an important thing,” Price said.