Arizona sorely needs solutions to its high vehicle-theft rate, now second-highest per year among the 50 states. But restoring front license plates in Arizona — eliminated for budgetary and effectiveness reasons 17 years ago — isn’t one of them.
As reported by Capitol Media Services in Sunday’s Tribune, State Sen. Marilyn Jarrett, R-Mesa, is sponsoring a bill in January to return the plates to the front of Arizona motor vehicles at the urging of the executive director of the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority, Enrique Cantu. Her proposal contains no mechanism for paying for the creation of twice as many license plates as the state is paying to make now, a concern to any frugal taxpayer.
More to the point, though, is that over those 17 years, despite Arizona’s far-too-high vehicle theft rate, the state’s law-enforcement agencies have not been clamoring for the return of front plates.
And according to the AATA’s own Vehicle Theft Fact Sheet, dated Oct. 31, the main reason so many Arizona vehicles are stolen and are never recovered has very little to do with the number of license plates it has.
The state’s proximity to Mexico is "perhaps the greatest influence on Arizona’s vehicle theft problem," it says, noting that most vehicle thefts take place at night. "A stolen vehicle can be stripped for parts, used to facilitate other crimes, or smuggled into Mexico before the owner realizes it is missing."
The AATA has offered several workable, potentially effective solutions to this state’s car-theft crisis, according to its Web site. For example, it has entered into partnerships with public and private agencies to utilize license-plate-reading cameras to identify stolen vehicles traveling between Arizona and Mexico. Yet whatever minuscule advantage the cops gain by reading a plate on the front of a passing car rather than waiting only a second or two to read a rear plate hardly justifies paying (somehow) for twice the number of plates made now.
AATA reported that based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2004, Arizona fell to second place in the rate of car thefts that year (Nevada is now No. 1) due to a 3 percent reduction. This shows AATA’s existing programs are working. Until we hear more concrete arguments from the state’s law-enforcement community favoring them, we find little to justify requiring front license plates on Arizona vehicles.