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This ain't Mayberry, St. Petersburgers

Maybe it was growing up not in Mayberry but in Miami, with big-city Miami crime.

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But we would no more leave the keys in the car than open up the front door to our house and leave it that way all night long, just in case a needy burglar happened by.

Keys in the car? Why not throw 20 bucks on the seat for gas? Maybe a gift card to a fast-food drive-through?

So it sounded wildly improbable when St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster recently said that 60 percent of his city's car thefts happened because people left their keys in their cars. Then a Times' PolitiFact Florida check revealed something even more jaw-dropping — that 83.5 percent of cars stolen this year had keys helpfully tucked into ignitions or elsewhere in the cars.

What a sweet gig, to be a St. Pete car thief!

No pesky screwdrivers needed to get the thing started — just a sharp eye in a parking lot to find out who's too trusting.

How nice if you could actually live in a place that safe.

So I got to wondering about the city where I now live: Is Tampa equally trusting?

No, as it turns out. ($#@& no, as we like to say in the gritty big city.)

Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy says keys left behind account for about 25 percent of Tampa car thefts. The national average is about 40 to 50 percent.

In Tampa, the screwdriver is still a car thief's best friend.

"I guess (St. Pete) can interpret it in a positive way, that people feel safe," she said (rather charitably, if you ask me). "We're a bigger city, a more urban setting, probably a little more in tune to our surroundings."

But before we get too smug over all this big-city savvy, Tampa still has plenty of utterly avoidable crimes of opportunity, typically lawn mowers, leaf blowers and assorted tools that disappear from open garages in "safe" neighborhoods. ("Criminals take the path of least resistance," McElroy says. "Where there's easy pickings is where they'll tend to target.")

So Tampa police blanket parked cars with fliers telling motorists that the GPS, laptop or loose change inside is (obviously) easily seen from the street. And perhaps better off in the trunk.

And here's a fun fact: It's a ticketable offense to leave your car running unattended — even to keep the AC on in the sweltering sun as you slip into 7-Eleven for a Slurpee.

It's not a crime, however, to leave your keys behind.

"Unfortunately," says Tampa police Chief Jane Castor, "we don't have any statutes that cover a lack of common sense."

• • •

At Hillsborough County's back-to-school news conference Friday at B.C. Graham Elementary, I was amazed at how much had changed — and hadn't. The library where we gathered might be called a "media center" now, but it had that same promising smell of books, and more books, and also chalk, though I am told chalk is not the classroom mainstay it once was. School lunch was still chicken, green beans and fruit on a tidy tray, except now parents can track fat grams and school menus on a free app.

• • •

Having just reached for my cellphone at my desk, and having realized it currently sits in the cupholder of my car far away, I have decided maybe it is a good thing that a lack of common sense is not a crime. (So much for Miami savvy.)

This ain't Mayberry, St. Petersburgers 08/16/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 16, 2013 9:00pm]
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