House bill would make checking car door handles illegal

Don't touch my car door handles, lawmakers want to tell potential thieves.

A bill in the Missouri House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee would make it a crime for someone to be a serial door handle-checker.

House Bill 570, sponsored by Rep. Brad Christ, a St. Louis County Republican, would create a specific offense for unlawfully gaining entry into a motor vehicle.

"I live in University City and a group of like 14- to 15-year-olds with semi-automatic weapons, in the middle of the night, came down our street and just started randomly pulling door handles," said Tom Robbins, who testified on the behalf of St. Louis County Police Association.

Robbins said that, in his experience, criminals would often steal vehicles and would use them for crime sprees before eventually being caught, which concerned him and his family.

"So anything we can do to avoid that outcome, my wife and daughter thank you," he said.

Christ clarified the law would only take effect if someone was caught attempting several car doors at once.

Rep. Robert Sauls, D-Independence, said while laws that would prosecute this behavior already exist, convicting someone with a charge like tampering can be difficult.

"I think part of the problem with tamperings ... and I think you'd still have the same problem with this, you have to prove that the person was in the automobile as well as that the person didn't have permission to be in the automobile," Sauls said. "That's part of the state's job to prove that the person didn't have permission to enter the vehicle."

Stephen Korte, the Pike County sheriff, testified in favor of the bill as well, saying that vehicle theft from St. Louis would sometimes spill over into Pike County.

Lawmakers in the committee also considered a bill that would enhance charges for automatic teller machine (ATM) destruction and theft.

House Bill 725, sponsored by Rep. Rick Francis, R-Perryville, would establish a specific offense for theft from or tampering with an ATM, also known as a "smash-and-grab." This bill is similar to another that passed out of the House in the 2022 legislative session.

"Currently there is no specific penalty for tampering with ATMs," Francis said. "Perpetrators have been charged with theft or property damage, but again, no specific provision for ATMs. A smash and grab is a term used to describe the attempt to steal cash inside an ATM by physically destroying the machine. Typically, a smash-and-grab involves a large truck. ... to rip the ATM encasement where cash is being stored. These types of crimes usually have an element of organized crime."

Committee Chairman Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, noted the amount of money taken during an ATM "smash-and-grab" is often much larger than a bank robbery, despite the crime garnering much less attention.

The bill was written with input from police chiefs in Francis's district and is supported by prosecuting attorneys and the Missouri Bankers Association and Missouri Credit Union Association.

Francis said a bill like this was needed as a deterrent for property crime in Missouri.

HB 570: Establishes offense for unlawfully gaining access to motor vehicles

Sponsor: Rep. Brad Christ R-St. Louis,

HB 725: Modifies and establishes offenses involving teller machines

Sponsor: Rep. Rick Francis, R-Perryville,