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Odd Justice: Philly Suburb Considers Issuing Fines For Not Locking Cars

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On: Mon, Oct 18, 2010 at 10:37AM | By: Chris Weiss

Odd Justice: Philly Suburb Considers Issuing Fines For Not Locking Cars

In a rather odd attempt to quell a recent spate of personal property theft, Upper Moreland Township, a Pennsylvania town north of Philadelphia, is currently considering fining people for leaving their car doors unlocked in public parking areas. The reasoning behind the move is understandable: according to city numbers, 75 percent of all theft reported since 2008 has been the result of unlocked car doors. Clearly, leaving a car unlocked in the township is a problem. But is spot-checking and fining owners the solution?

The town's proposal isn't quite as bad as it sounds: a first offense would result in a warning. Under the plan, police officers would be tasked with checking car doors at random to ensure they were locked. Police officers would also lock unlocked doors. After the first offense, officers would issue 'offenders' a citation and $25 fine.

News reports indicate that there isn't a lot of crime in the township, which is part of the reason that people feel safe enough to leave their cars open. So it would seem that the police have plenty of spare time on their hands and are looking for something to keep themselves busy.

Frankly, this sounds like one of the most misguided law enforcement efforts I've ever heard of. If the police really have time to do this type of proactive enforcement, maybe it's time to cut back on the force and save the taxpayers a little money. And not for nothing, but police officers aren't always those friendly, honest folks that they would be in an ideal world. What if one or two rogue officers decide to use their new duty as an excuse to steal property out of open cars? Also, the idea of officers getting into your personal property brings up some civil liberties questions. What if the officer happens to find something illegal in your car when he's opening and closing your unlocked door? I'd imagine that it'd be called "plain sight," but should police be allowed to lay hands on your property in the first place? And what's next, officers sneaking around at 2 a.m. checking to make sure your front door is locked?

The most most glaring issue with the proposal is that avoiding theft should really be the strongest motivation for locking your car doors. Not having your CDs, stereo, paperwork, or whatever else you keep in your car certainly seems like better motivation than worrying about a police officer "nailing you" for the "offense."

I'm not that familiar with Upper Moreland, but I've done my fair share of driving around Philadelphia and outlying towns and I wouldn't dream about leaving my car unlocked there. Maybe the township could install a couple of signs to serve as a reminder and then leave the responsibility where it should be: with the individual. After all, the only victim is the guy who leaves his car unlocked and has his property stolen; why spend taxpayer money trying to protect foolish behavior? My hometown has done just that, putting a few signs at select public parking areas reminding people to avoid leaving valuables in plain sight.

It's definitely an interesting debate. What do you think: fair policing or meddlesome interference by the local government?


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