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Eureka Police will have more latitude to protect property inside vehicles and curb vehicle thefts.

The Eureka Board of Aldermen voted unanimously Nov. 16 to implement stricter vehicle-tampering laws.

The new laws make it illegal to lift door handles on vehicles that do not belong to you, and it also is illegal to enter a vehicle without the owner’s permission. If a vehicle is parked on private property, the owner of the property can legally try to open the vehicle or get into it without the owner’s permission.

Police Chief Michael Wiegand said a person can be arrested if seen attempting to open doors on multiple vehicles. The new law targets a person or group of people who attempt to open multiple vehicles in neighborhoods and parking lots to steal items or the vehicles themselves if the thieves find keys left inside.

“That walking up and down streets is what we got going after,” Wiegand said. “They’re checking door handles and just finding cars that are unlocked. There was never a law that said anything about that.”

Wiegand said he hopes the stricter rules will reverse the city’s rising trend of vehicle thefts.

He said as of Nov. 17, there were 29 reported vehicle thefts in the city compared with 10 in all of 2020 and 11 in 2019.

“We average between 10 and 15 cars stolen (every year),” Wiegand said. “This is triple what we’ve normally had, because of the activities that have been going on with these groups of folks coming in and trying to open unlocked doors and people leaving their keys in the cars and stuff like that.”

Wiegand said the new law falls under the misdemeanor charge of tampering with a motor vehicle. Those found guilty can be subject to up to a $1,000 fine and jail time.

Wiegand said he does not believe the new law alone will reduce vehicle-related thefts, but the change does allow officers a chance to intercede before a theft occurs.

He also said officers are patrolling neighborhoods more frequently between midnight and 4 a.m., the time when many of these types of thefts occur.

“It does give our police officers more authority to arrest people in these situations,” he said.

Wiegand said there also has been an increase in parts stolen off vehicles, especially catalytic converters. He said there have been 32 reports of parts stolen off vehicles so far this year after there were 13 in all last year and eight in 2019.

While it is difficult to stop thefts of parts from vehicles, Weigand said, people can do several things to reduce the chances of having their vehicles or belongings stolen.

“Lock your cars, take all your valuables inside and take your garage door openers inside,” he said. “Don’t leave (guns) in the car overnight.”