Misdemeanor to felony: WPD and local dealership plea to lawmakers for change in car theft penalties


WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A plea for change. Car thefts in Wichita are up an astonishing 84% from a year ago. Wichita police and a general manager of a dealership said the state law needs to be changed. 

The Scholfield Honda dealership received a call from the Wichita Police Department on Saturday morning.

General manager Brad Cox said police told him a stolen car slammed into the dealership’s lot. He said he knew it would be difficult to find out who did it. 

“It had stolen tags on it, lost control, creamed onto our lot hitting two vehicles,” said Brad Cox “That individual was a lady, and she got out of the vehicle and fled on foot, and of course, she was not she was not caught in the act.”

Cox said the woman totaled a vehicle and left $20,000 worth of damage for the dealership to pay for. He said it’s the worst-case scenario. 

“The perpetrators can jump out of a vehicle, and there’s nothing tying, and so they have no idea of identifying those individuals if they do get in a police chase or things like that,” said Cox. 

Cox said in his 27 years of being in the car business, this last year has been the first time he has had six cars stolen, never to be seen again. 

Cox said it’s not the police department’s fault as there isn’t much of a penalty for stealing a vehicle. 

“The police are very frustrated because they pull over the stolen vehicles, people get out and say they’re joyriding. Virtually, they’re getting a ticket for stealing a vehicle,” said Cox. 

Wichita Police Department Deputy Chief Jose Salcido said if the department finds the suspect, stealing a car in Kansas doesn’t always mean jail time. 

“Say you still steal a car, but there’s no way I can prove that you stole the car, even though you’re driving it, then there’s nothing I could do other than okay, she’s got the car, and that’s a misdemeanor,” said Deputy Chief Jose Salcido. 

Salcido said it’s considered a joyride. The joyriders have to pay a fine depending on how expensive the car is. 

In surrounding states like Oklahoma and Missouri, there’s a separate law. That law makes those thefts a felony with two years in prison. 

“It’s hard to face the victims saying hey, the laws are not adequate to bring you justice,” said Salcido. 

Lt. Scott Brunow said this year’s theft numbers are alarming. 

“This year, it’s really been a profound 84% increase year to date. Ninety automobiles have been reported stolen this year, January 1 through January 10, compared to 49, last year. So that’s an 84% increase again, in that same time period,” said Brunow. 

Brunow said it also creates an issue with repeat offenders. 

“We’re seeing some repeat offenders. One instance was we had a suspect that was charged later that week was arrested, was charged, and then was arrested again, and just last week, he committed a burglary and stole the car from the residence. So we do see a small amount of those who are those repeat offenders, which is, which is incredibly frustrating,” said Brunow. 

These issues are why the Wichita Police Department said they are urging Kansas lawmakers to create a law to make auto thefts a felony. The department also hopes Kansans will call their lawmakers, so if they are in that situation, the thieves can be put behind bars. 

The department said they are hoping it will lead to change and tougher penalties. 

Cox said he hopes it changes as well so his business doesn’t have to deal with more hits to the insurance rate. 

“These thieves can go out and steal your vehicle, damage it, go wherever they want, use it, you know, it’s gonna cause our insurance to go up. It’s, it’s a pain, it’s sad,” he said. 


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