Car theft consequences could use stiffenings

Back in the Old West anyone who stole another person's horse came to an unpleasant end.

In areas where the law had taken hold, horse theft was a hanging offense. In the areas where the people made their own law, it could mean a bullet when the original owner caught up with the miscreant.

The reason for the harsh consequences was simple. In those days, people depended on their horses for their very lives. For that reason, horse theft wasn't a very common occurrence.

These days, America, especially in the Southwest, runs on wheels. People may not depend on their cars for their very lives, but they depend on cars to make their lives work.

The instinct to steal another person's means of mobility, however, seems to have grown as the consequences for doing so have become less severe. Arizona ranks first in the nation in vehicle theft.

In the tri-city area, auto theft has increased 75 percent over the previous year. In Prescott, it increased 58 percent; in Prescott Valley, 121 percent, and in Chino, it increased from one theft in 2001 to six in 2002.Prescott Assistant Police Chief Dave Benner said his agency clears about 27 percent of the car theft cases and generally recovers "all or part" of the stolen vehicles in those cases.

Getting the car back often isn't pretty. One recent victim found a chassis and the gutted-out body and truck. The sad thing was, the thieves stripped it with a cutting torch so even the parts were next to worthless.

Although reverting to the 1880s methods of dealing with the thieves of our rides isn't an option, perhaps we could make better examples of car thieves than we do now.