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Licensed To Steal

Thefts of license-plate stickers drive up crime statistics.


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The charge "theft of motor vehicle parts" sounds like it should refer to a stolen catalytic converter or an entire engine.

But Memphis police director Larry Godwin says the majority of motor-vehicle-part thefts come from people stealing the expiration-date stickers from license plates.

"We have to take a report on theft of motor vehicle parts if someone steals that little sticker," Godwin says. "I'd say about 60 percent of our motor-vehicle-part thefts are related to that."

There were 2,645 license-plate or license-sticker thefts in the past 12 months, and 99 in the first 10 days of May.

It's a huge problem, Godwin says, but he'd prefer to record the crime in a way that wouldn't make it look as though Memphis has a high number of car-part thefts. The current policy for recording the crime as an auto-part theft is required by the FBI.

"I wish we could get a separate category for license-sticker thefts, so we can show citizens that we don't have a rash of radio or catalytic converter thefts," Godwin says.

Even though it is a minor crime, local Sierra Club environmental justice coordinator Rita Harris was devastated when she realized her sticker had been stolen.

"I went to get something out of the trunk of my car when I was parked in my driveway," Harris says. "I happened to look down at my license plate and noticed a plug out of it where the sticker should have been."

Rather than simply peel off the sticker, the thief cut out a metal square around the sticker on her license plate, which meant Harris had to purchase a new plate.

"I'm certain it happened when my car was parked outside the Sierra Club office on Poplar, because I live in the country," Harris says.

A similar thing happened to Trent Davis. He noticed a square missing from his license plate after parking his car outside his boyfriend's house in Chickasaw Gardens. "I had to drive the car around like that for a few weeks before I could get a new plate," Davis says. "Luckily, I didn't get pulled over."

Neither Harris nor Davis reported the thefts to the police, but if they had, it would have driven up the statistic for motor-vehicle-part thefts. Godwin says he'd like to see the reporting policy changed to reflect the procedure used by New York's police department.

"They don't even take a report on property theft under $1,000. Instead, they take a memo," Godwin says. "That's not to say you haven't been violated, but a sticker theft shouldn't be considered a theft of motor-vehicle parts."

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