NATIONAL CITY (CNS) - Starting New Year's Day, a new law authored by a San Diego County assemblyman will enable police to arrest anyone carrying a type of makeshift device used for stealing motorcycles.
The legislation targets so-called "pigtails" - homemade ignitions that can allow a crook to start a motorcycle in as little as 20 seconds.
As of Jan. 1, possessing such a device will be a misdemeanor, and anyone caught with one could get up to six months in jail and be fined $1,000.
About 1,100 motorcycles were stolen in San Diego County in 2009, with insurance claims for the losses averaging $9,000, according to the Regional Auto Theft Task Force.
California has the nation's highest motorcycle theft rate. In the first 10 months of 2010, more than 5,000 motorcycles were stolen statewide, resulting in roughly $45 million worth of insurance claims.
"Although not everyone in the state rides motorcycles, the cost associated with the theft of sports bikes impacts all of us, since those costs are often passed on to auto policyholders as well," said Assemblyman Martin Garrick, R-Solana Beach, author of the legislation.
Current law bans the possession of burglar tools such as "slim jims," shaved keys and bolt cutters, if law enforcement can establish the intent to use them to break into or steal a car, truck or SUV -- but not a motorcycle.
Garrick, who describes himself as an avid biker, said the statute will close that "loophole."
"The freedom of riding a motorcycle on California's roads is one of life's greatest joys that only enthusiasts can truly appreciate," he said.
"With this new law, we are taking an important step to defend that freedom from those who seek to take it away by stealing someone's motorcycle."
One of the key proponents of the legislation was Chula Vista police Officer Anthony Molina, who raised concern about pigtails after getting a phone call from a fellow patrolman who had pulled over a known motorcycle thief.
Though the suspect was carrying hardware typically used to steal motorcycles, Molina reluctantly told his colleague he had to let him go, due to current law regarding such illicit tools.
The incident inspired Molina to work with the District Attorney's Office on the recently approved prohibition on motorcycle-theft pigtails.
Also taking part in this morning's briefing at a South Bay motorcycle shop were National City police Chief Adolfo Gonzales; his Chula Vista counterpart, Chief David Bejarano; and California Highway Patrol Capt. Scott Parker, commander of the regional vehicle-theft task force.