Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times

PolitiFact Florida: Taking a closer look at auto thefts in St. Petersburg

Erick Wolf, 17, a car thief  who is being transported from a squad car to a transport vehicle as he is taken in for a curfew violation in Clearwater, during late night patrols as part of the Habitual Offender Monitoring Enforcement program, or HOME, which is run by the sheriff's office with the St. Pete, Largo and Clearwater police departments. (DIRK SHADD   |   Times)

Erick Wolf, 17, a car thief who is being transported from a squad car to a transport vehicle as he is taken in for a curfew violation in Clearwater, during late night patrols as part of the Habitual Offender Monitoring Enforcement program, or HOME, which is run by the sheriff's office with the St. Pete, Largo and Clearwater police departments. (DIRK SHADD | Times)

Whose epidemic is it anyway? The leading candidates in St. Petersburg's mayoral race are trading blows over the city's issue with automobile theft ahead of the Aug. 29 primary.

Former Mayor Rick Baker told a Tampa Bay Times reporter that auto theft is "now at epidemic proportions" under Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Kriseman defended himself on Twitter and Facebook with a graphic showing the problem appeared worse during Baker's time in office.

TIMES INVESTIGATION: Kids are driving Pinellas County's car-theft epidemic.

According to Kriseman's post, there were 2,761 auto thefts in 2006 under Baker, compared with 1,095 auto thefts in 2016 under Kriseman.

We wanted to look at the trend under both mayors.

The numbers Kriseman reported from the St. Petersburg Police Department checked out for those years.

Baker was mayor from April 2001 to January 2010. Kriseman's campaign plucked the worst year to make its counterpunch.

The year 2006 was the highest point for auto thefts since 2000 — although most other years were higher than any point in Kriseman's three full years since taking office in 2014.

Choosing to compare raw numbers from Baker's 2008 and Kriseman's 2015, though, could leave a different impression, with 1,461 and 1,523 thefts, respectively.

What does the bigger story tell you?

The rate of car thefts in St. Petersburg remains far higher than the national and state average, regardless of who was mayor.

"The number of auto-thefts, the number of auto burglaries, it's something you need to watch and something that's important, but the impact of the activity is more important than anything else," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

And in recent years, the impact of automobile thefts, specifically juvenile auto thefts, has been a priority for the department.

The Tampa Bay Times documented the automobile theft issue, finding that children in Pinellas County were arrested more for stealing cars than anywhere else in Florida.

Gualtieri said 2015 was "ground zero" for the juvenile auto-theft problem and said that's when the department really started noticing the trend of young kids stealing cars. In early 2016, three teenage girls drove a stolen car into a cemetery pond and drowned. At the time, Gualtieri called the incident "unacceptable."

"Solutions need to come deep from within the community," Gualtieri said at the time. "Kids need to know there are consequences. This is a systematic and complex problem."

Automobile thefts became a priority for police in 2015 and 2016 — leading to a year-over-year drop.

Law enforcement officials consider juvenile auto thefts a countywide problem; a drop in St. Petersburg doesn't necessarily mean the problem is over.

Detective Paul Etcheson, who's been with the police department for almost nine years and works in the property crime unit, described automobile theft in St. Petersburg as a "revolving door."

"The reason the numbers have fallen in the previous months is because we have juveniles placed in programs, or on 21-day hold or something," he said. "As soon as they get back, they're right back at it."

As we said, 2006 was a high point for auto theft. We wanted to understand why.

Police officer Mark Williams, who has been with the department for over a decade, said cars were simply easier to steal in 2005 and 2006 like the Dodge Ram 1500. Older cars could be broken into with a screwdriver or a pair of scissors, he said.

Williams said automakers have done a better job of eliminating access points on cars. For instance, key holes are only on the driver side rather than on all doors.

In response to Kriseman's image, Baker said, "I've been to 50 neighborhood organizations in the last six months and if Rick Kriseman thinks he doesn't have an auto theft problem, he needs to get out more."

Kriseman's campaign emphasized the mayor is still concerned about automobile thefts, and said the image was meant to undermine Baker's remark that automobile theft is at "epidemic proportions."

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Contact Allison Graves at [email protected] Follow @AllisonBGraves.

The statement

There were 2,761 auto thefts in 2006 under Rick Baker and 1,095 auto thefts in 2016.

Mayor Rick Kriseman, July 23 in posts on Twitter and Facebook

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Mostly True Those numbers are accurate, but more information is needed to understand the full story. Kriseman cherry-picked the year of Baker's two terms with the highest amount of theft and compared it with his lowest year. To his overall point, the automobile theft per capita in St. Petersburg has been significantly higher than the national and state rates, regardless of who was in office. We rate this claim Mostly True.

PolitiFact Florida: Taking a closer look at auto thefts in St. Petersburg 07/31/17 [Last modified: Friday, July 28, 2017 6:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa Bay small businesses give Tampa B+ for regulatory climate

    Corporate

    In a recent survey about small business sentiments toward state and local government policies that affect them, Tampa Bay ranked at No. 25 out of 80 — a B+ overall.

    Tampa Bay ranked No. 25 out of 80 in a recent survey about how small business owners feel about state and local government policies that affect them. | [Times file photo]
  2. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help

    Bucs

    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  3. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers

    Crime

    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  4. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  5. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)

    War

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.