Auto theft crackdown to exempt airport rental car agencies

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Chicago car dealers would be required to lock up the keys and license plates, but airport rental car agencies would be exempt, under a watered-down crime-fighting crackdown advanced Thursday.

Last month, the rental car industry demanded a carve-out amendment for airport operations “due to the volume of cars” rented and dropped off by passengers at O’Hare and Midway airports.

The appeal before the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety was made by attorney John Daley, son of County Commissioner John Daley and nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“The act of removing car keys and plates and giving them back to customers will hinder the experience at the airport and inconvenience customers,” Daley said then.

The argument apparently resonated with aldermen.

On Thursday, the Public Safety Committee approved a softer version of the ordinance that excuses rental car agencies operating at Chicago airports.

Instead of locking up the keys and plates, airport rental car agencies will be required to hold quarterly meetings with Chicago Police to review their security plans and address police concerns.

“It’s a complex 24-hour operation with thousands of cars that go through these facilities every day,” said North Side Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), who championed the ordinance in partnership with Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader.

“They will not be required to lock the key up. … But they understand we’re gonna be paying attention to this and watching how that cooperation with the Police Department goes. If we need to revisit this down the road, we will. But we think this gets at the core of … making sure people aren’t stealing cars and using them in crimes.”

The revised ordinance requires all keys maintained by Chicago car dealers to be “placed in a secure lock-box inside the salesroom or rental building at all times” when the facility is not open for business.

Special dealer plates issued by the Illinois Secretary of State’s office would have to be attached to vehicles by “tamper-resistant security screws” or placed in a secure lock-box inside the salesroom when the facility is closed.

The Chicago Police Department’s Major Auto Theft Investigative Unit pushed for a more sweeping mandate covering car dealers and rental car agencies to stop an epidemic of vehicle thefts in recent months.

But Sgt. Keith Blair, the unit’s commanding officer, told aldermen Thursday that rental car thefts have dropped significantly because of changes already made by the agencies themselves. He did not identify those measures.

“We have not had any major incidents since April, when we had a large number of vehicles taken at one time. So the steps they’re taking are very proactive and have curbed a large number of thefts,” Blair said. “Having us evaluate what their security measures are and allowing us to give some input will also be beneficial. It’s a constantly changing game. We’re usually aware of the trends. If we help them get in front of instead of behind it, that would be helpful.”

Blair called the mandate for car dealers a “great step.”

“Keys are imperative to an auto theft. If the keys are in the vehicle, it makes it easier to steal. Removing the keys — it eliminates it right there,” he said.

Last month, Blair told aldermen about an incident in which 13 people descended on a rental car facility, and “every vehicle in that lot” had keys in it.

The entrance to the lot was blocked by a van without keys in it, but the vehicle parked in front of that van did have keys, Blair said then. So the thugs got in the car, put it in drive, “pushed the van out of the way and drove out of the lot with 13 rental vehicles in one incident,” he said.

“They brought 13 individuals to one location at one time and drove off with 13 rental vehicles,” Blair told aldermen on that day. “These vehicles are used in … bump-and-run thefts, armed robberies, shootings, homicides.”

Daley represents Enterprise Leasing, according to lobbying reports filed with the Board of Ethics. Daley’s law partner Victor Reyes, former chieftain of the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization at the center of the city hiring scandal, is also a registered lobbyist for Enterprise, records show.

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