Following a recent rash of vehicle thefts and thefts from vehicles in the city, Upper Arlington Mayor and City Council President Frank Ciotola said he supports increasing the penalties for those offenses.
Citing a case in which the 16-year-old daughter of an acquaintance was reduced to tears because her first car was broken into, Ciotola asked Upper Arlington's law department to research the possibility of harsher theft penalties.
He made the request during a council conference session Monday, Oct. 15. He was supported, at least in principle, by council members David DeCapua and Debbie Johnson.
"I think the safety, peace of mind and security of our residents is probably job one," Ciotola said. "What's our flexibility to increase the punishments for these types of crimes?"
Currently, Ohio law mandates that thefts of $1,000 or more are considered felonies.
Any thefts in which the items stolen are valued at less than $1,000 are considered first-degree misdemeanors in Upper Arlington, according to the Upper Arlington Police Department.
Maximum penalties for first-degree misdemeanors are 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
According to police, there have been more than 100 thefts from homes and vehicles in Upper Arlington since Sept. 20. There also were eight vehicles stolen.
Items taken from the vehicles have ranged from loose change to clothing and electronic devices, such as laptop computers and mobile telephones.
In many instances, police officials said, vehicles were left unlocked, or windows were broken out after thieves observed personal property inside.
Police said the keys had been left inside each vehicle that was stolen.
Police Lt. Greg Patrick said Upper Arlington has seen an uptick in vehicle thefts and thefts from vehicles in recent weeks, as have other central Ohio communities. Based on arrests that are made periodically, he said, many of the offenders are stealing to support drug addictions, often related to heroin or other opiates.
"We're all seeing a surge of this type of activity," Patrick said. "We're not alone."
Patrick said the UAPD is working with other central Ohio communities in an attempt to link offenders to crimes they've committed in multiple jurisdictions, to ensure they receive longer jail sentences.
"The longer we can put away these people, the better it's going to be for all of us," he said.
Cioltola, DeCapua and Johnson said they support exploring harsher local penalties to send a message to criminals that they risk longer jail sentences if they break the law in Upper Arlington.
"The sense of security we have is important," Johnson said. "It also improves the quality of life."
Ciotola asked if installing security cameras in parts of the city might make sense, and added he would support appropriating more money to the police department to pay for officer overtime and allow for more neighborhood patrols.
"I'd like to see as much as possible," he said. "I'm committed to it on the expense side."
While city officials weigh the possible increase in theft penalties or extra patrols, Patrick and others said residents can do their part. Those measures, they said, include locking all vehicle and residential doors and garages, removing keys and property from vehicles and turning on their homes' exterior lights during evening hours.