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Runestad bill to crack down on car theft technology gets green light from Senate panel

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on Tuesday approved Sen. Jim Runestad’s legislation to combat growing trends of automobile theft in Michigan.

“I have learned from law enforcement that there has been a concerning increase of car thefts in Southeast Michigan and across the state — they point to handheld computer devices used for automotive key programming and diagnostics as a major contributor to this unfortunate and growing trend,” said Runestad, R-White Lake. “These tools are helpful in the hands of locksmiths and auto mechanics, but criminals are taking advantage of this technology at an alarming rate. My bill will give prosecutors and law enforcement officers the tool they need to charge those who are taking advantage of this technology to commit crimes.”

Senate Bill 870 would add computers or other technology that allow an individual to program a key code for a motor vehicle to the state’s burglary equipment statute, which prescribes a felony offense for individuals found to be in possession of the equipment with the intention to commit theft.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s office reports that automobile thefts have increased 66.7% and possession of a motor vehicle as stolen property increased 138% from 2020 to 2021.

“The increase in the use of handheld computer devices — pro pads — used for automotive key re-programming has been a major contributor to the thefts,” said Oakland Country Sheriff Michael J. Bouchard. “Thieves are able to re-program key fobs in minutes and be gone with the vehicle. Most are not noticed to be stolen until hours or days later. A harsher penalty would hopefully deter most thieves from using this technology.

“With pro pads being used in roughly 90% of the Oakland County auto thefts, auto theft detectives have attempted to get the car thieves in possession of the pro pads charged with possession of burglary tools but have been unsuccessful. Detectives have been advised by the prosecutor’s office that case law needs to be written which lists pro pads as burglary tools. If language does not currently exist in the bill labeling these as burglary tools, we support adding that language. Oakland County auto theft detectives have recovered approximately 10 pro pads in the past year.”

Law enforcement groups, including the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, Police Officers Association of Michigan, Michigan Fraternal Order of Police, Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, and Michigan Manufacturers Association have voiced their support for the bill.

SB 870 now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

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