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Legislative move to keep criminals from taking advantage of disaster victims

Posted at 8:16 AM, Mar 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-06 09:16:25-05

Anytime there is a major disaster, there can be people who take advantage of the situation. Such as looting, or robbing someone’s home or business.

One local officer testified on Monday, in favor of House Bill 1028. Captain Lynn Pearce made his way to Austin earlier this week to advocate why these kind of bills need to be in place, especially after experiencing the hard times Hurricane Harvey brought.

“What it does is it enhances the punishment for crimes and certain crimes in a disaster area or an area that’s been evacuated in anticipation of a disaster,” says Pearce. He says he among other officers that also gave testimony’s to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday, hoping this bill make it pass committee and eventually get passed through legislature. Pearce says the overall goal, to give citizens a peace of mind and let them know they can evacuate and be secure during hard times.

“With this increased punishment, we’ll hope that that will deter people from wanting to commit this crime and give some relief to the citizens so they can evacuate and go to safety,” Pearce says.

There are already offenses for these kind of crimes, but HB 1028 would take those penalties to the next level. These crimes include robbery, burglary and assault.

One business owner who felt the effects of robbery and vandalism, is Moe Motaghi, who owns the Snappy’s Foods #5 in Aransas Pass. He says his employees evacuated during Harvey. A few days later, Motaghi went to see what the damage was and noticed the store had rain and wind damage, with a collapsed roof. They locked up their store until they were ready to come back, and during that time, “there was a couple attempt that was made that the door was taken off of the hinges and people were going in and helping themselves with the product,” says Motaghi.

He says not only did they take product, but they vandalized inside his store. Motaghi feels that during these trying times, this is the worst behavior someone can commit. “On top of that, someone comes in and does that, that makes you pretty upset, it’s not a good thing to experience,” Motaghi says.

He feels APPD did a great job in preventing these crimes from happening during Harvey, because of the tough task, he knows it was difficult for law enforcement to watch everything happening during the storm. Motaghi says he hopes the bill passes, in case there is another natural disaster.

Captain Pearce did say that when giving testimony’s, “the committee members were very attentive and very responsive, we are encouraged that it will pass.”

If this law is changed through the act, it will only apply to offenses caused on or after the effective date. If HB 1028 is passed, the effective date is set for September 1, 2019.