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Spokane creates new vehicle trespass law designed to curb auto theft

UPDATED: Wed., March 15, 2017, 10:57 a.m.

FILE - Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, center, is flanked by Spokane Mayor David Condon, left, and City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, far right, during a news conference in September 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, center, is flanked by Spokane Mayor David Condon, left, and City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, far right, during a news conference in September 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Entering a car without the owner’s permission will now net you jail time or a fine in Spokane.

The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to create a new crime, vehicle trespassing, that members say will allow the police department to more effectively combat Spokane’s growing property crime problem. The misdemeanor would be punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, though council members said they hoped it would be used to direct low-level offenders to services like drug treatment and job training.

“I’m sorry that this is happening in our community, and I hope this new law helps these kinds of situations,” City Councilwoman Candace Mumm said.

Rick Bocook, who frequently addresses the Council on issues affecting the city’s homeless population, urged the panel not to “criminalize homelessness” by passing the law.

“I look at people who are out there, trying to survive, and if they come up to a car, they might end up sleeping in it,” Bocook said. “It’s not a matter of whether they’re trying to steal it.”

The Washington Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the question later this spring whether criminal trespassing under state law includes trespassing in vehicles. A Kittitas County man was convicted of second-degree criminal trespass after falling asleep in an unlocked Chevy Blazer in Ellensburg in October 2014. Spokane-based appellate attorney Susan M. Gasch is representing the man, Anthony A. Joseph, in that case, arguing state law prohibits trespassing on “a premises,” though it’s unclear that definition includes vehicles.

A hearing in that case is scheduled at Evergreen State College in Olympia on May 9.



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