Could Reducing Criminal Charges Deter Car Thefts in Rochester, NY?

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office says it is intentionally reducing criminal charges against some young people accused of stealing cars in the Greater Rochester area because it allows law enforcement to temporarily detain suspects who would otherwise be released on appearance tickets under the law for the guarantee of New York.

The sheriff’s office revealed the strategy Thursday during a taped roundtable with reporters about the agency’s ongoing efforts to combat auto theft in Monroe County.

James Coco, an investigator with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, said the agency approached the 16- and 17-year-olds with misdemeanor charges instead of misdemeanors when they were arrested in connection with a stolen vehicle.

The felony charge sends the young person to Monroe County Family Court, where a judge can issue an intervention that includes holding the suspect in the Juvenile Detention Center, Coco said.

“Many times immediate intervention is really what we need – time to rest now,” he said. “We can’t wait for the justice system to catch up, because how many more cars are going to be stolen in the meantime?” How many more crimes will they be involved in?”

Alternatively, if charged with a crime, the 16- and 17-year-olds would be sent to a different court called the Youth Part, which falls under New York’s bail laws, Coco said. The crime, criminal possession of stolen property, is not a bailable offense, so the person will be released on an appearance ticket.

Enacted in 2020, New York State’s bail reform law seeks to reduce pretrial detention and address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, according to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Critics of New York State’s bail changes say the law has made communities less safe.

Sheriff Todd Baxter said interventions during that “time out,” which can include immediate contact with probation and counselors for young people and their families, have resulted in fewer rearrests.

The lesser charge is one of the strategies deputy sheriffs are implementing in an effort to reduce car thefts, which have broken into nearly 4,000 vehicles in Monroe County this year alone.

More ▼: Rochester Has Biggest Increase in Car Thefts in U.S. Most Suspects Are 13 to 18 Years Old

Does the Stolen Vehicle Task Force work in Monroe County?

Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul said a nationwide explosion of car thefts — sparked by a viral TikTok video exposing a security flaw in Kia and Hyundai models — reached extreme heights in Rochester and Buffalo.

Auto thefts in Monroe County are up 345 percent from last year, Hochul said, compared to a 213 percent increase in Erie County and a 20 percent increase in New York.

In July, MCSO assembled a “Stolen Vehicle Task Force” comprised of 12 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

About once a week, the task force uses unmarked police cars to patrol the county and identify suspected stolen vehicles, Coco said. They look for broken windows and mismatched plates, sometimes they follow the vehicle while it’s parked and the driver can be easily apprehended. Other times, undercover units will call in marked police cars and a helicopter to investigate further.

Since July, the task force has investigated 11 details that have led to the recovery of 21 stolen vehicles and 31 arrests, the sheriff’s office said.

More ▼: Most Kias and Hyundais are still vulnerable to car theft. Here’s how to protect yours

Kayla Canne reports on community justice and safety efforts for the Democrat and Chronicle. Get in touch at [email protected] or on Twitter @kaylacanne.

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