Stiffer penalties for crimes related to thefts are now in effect in Upper Arlington after City Council unanimously approved emergency legislation Nov. 26.
Following an autumn uptick in the number of vehicle break-ins and thefts from vehicles, garages and homes in the city, council voted unanimously Monday to create harsher penalties for those convicted of theft, criminal mischief, criminal damaging, criminal trespassing, aggravated criminal trespassing and unauthorized use of property.
The action came roughly a month after council President Frank Ciotola proposed increasing jail sentences, fines and terms of community service for those who commit thefts and theft-related offenses following a surge in criminal activity that saw more than 100 thefts from vehicles and homes in Upper Arlington between Sept. 20 and Oct. 15.
In taking action this week, council increased criminal damaging from a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a $750 maximum fine and up to 90 days in jail, to a first-degree misdemeanor, which could result in up to 180 days in jail or a fine of $1,000.
Likewise, criminal mischief has been upgraded from a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by not more than 60 days in prison and a maximum $500 fine to a second-degree misdemeanor, which could carry up to 90 days in prison and a $750 fine.
The new criminal damaging and criminal mischief penalties -- as well as new penalties for those convicted of misdemeanor theft -- will require offenders to complete 40 hours of community service and pay a $250 fine if the crime was committed with the intent to commit a theft. There also would be a mandatory three days of imprisonment given to anyone with a prior theft conviction who is also convicted of criminal damaging.
The city has implemented a mandatory three days in jail for those who commit criminal trespassing if the offender has a prior conviction of theft.
Related to unauthorized use of property, the city has increased the charge from a fourth-degree misdemeanor (maximum 30 days in prison and $250 fine) to a third-degree misdemeanor.
Those charged with unauthorized use of property would, if convicted, face a mandatory three days in jail if they have a single, prior theft conviction, and they would face a mandatory 30-day jail sentence if they have two prior theft convictions.
As for aggravated criminal trespassing, a mandatory three-day jail sentence would be imposed for committing the offense in Upper Arlington. There also would be mandatory 10-day sentences for those with a prior theft conviction and a 30-day mandatory sentence for those with two prior theft convictions.
Council enacted the new measures by emergency, meaning they went into effect immediately upon passage. Members approved the new penalties without discussion on Monday.
However, during a Nov. 19 council conference session, City Attorney Jeanine Hummer said the new laws would likely put Upper Arlington "at the top" in terms of penalties for thefts and theft-related crimes.
"I believe the message we want to send and that we are sending by just doing this is that we take those crimes seriously," Hummer said. "We will be more strict than the state and more strict, I believe, than most of the municipalities."
Also at the conference session, Upper Arlington Police Chief Brian Quinn noted many of the theft and theft-related crimes are being committed by people with addiction issues.
He said increasing the penalties might not be an immediate deterrent for people committing crimes to fuel their addictions, but said he supports the new measures because they would help keep offenders off the streets.
Hummer said she took the potential reactions of Franklin County judges into consideration prior to proposing the stricter penalties because she didn't want to compromise chances of incarcerating offenders.
"If this was a mandatory sentence that was excessive, I think we would get some push-back," she said. "I think this should be received well."
Ciotola, who initially said he was compelled to propose tougher laws after a friend's 16-year-old daughter was reduced to tears because her first car was broken into, said the new penalties are designed to protect residents and the quality of life in Upper Arlington.
"I want to continue to stay as tough as we can," he said.