Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Public safety

National study to focus on juvenile car theft epidemic in Pinellas

A national think-tank has begun a sprawling study into Pinellas County’s juvenile auto theft epidemic, hoping to stop the problem before more teens die in stolen cars.

The $85,000 research project, expected to culminate in policy recommendations for the Florida Legislature in January, appears to be the first probe of its kind into this dangerous youth crime.

"We’re not just doing a study for the sake of doing a study," said Dewey Caruthers, president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Caruthers Institute. "This is about data-driven social change — policy change, culture change, systems change."

Caruthers said his team began investigating why Pinellas juveniles are so drawn to grand theft auto in October. Researchers are interviewing 30 local, state and national experts from organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida Juvenile Justice Association and National Juvenile Justice Network.

Others on the team are studying communities around the country that have dealt with pervasive waves of youth crime, whether it be auto theft or another problem, like vandalism.

Researchers also plan to attend neighborhood association meetings throughout Pinellas before holding a series of "convenings" to share results with local and state lawmakers, officials and activists.

"Although the best efforts have been made to address it, the (car theft) problem continues," said Joe Clark, a member of the institute’s board of trustees and former president of the Eckerd Family Foundation. "There should be some specific recommendations that can be implemented and put into place so that we can get a different outcome."

The institute decided to dedicate its team to the problem of juvenile auto theft after reading "Hot Wheels," a recent Tampa Bay Times series about the danger and scope of the epidemic. After three girls died in a stolen Honda Accord in March 2016, Times reporters analyzed 18 months of police records, interviewed teen car thieves and attended dozens of court hearings.

READ THE ‘HOT WHEELS’ SERIES: ‘This real life game of Grand Theft Auto is dangerous’

They found that kids behind the wheel of stolen cars crash every four days in Pinellas. Police officers here arrest more juveniles for grand theft auto than any other county in Florida and virtually anywhere else in the country, including Baltimore and Los Angeles. Eight teen car thieves from Pinellas have died in just the last two years.

Clark called Caruthers after reading "Hot Wheels."

"This is obviously a very serious and difficult problem for the community," Clark said. "And so we talked and I said, ‘Dewey maybe this is something where we could get some partners together and really examine this issue.’"

Clark said he was especially shaken by the teenagers quoted in the series. "I was just shocked by — as many probably were — some of the statements that these young people made about their world or their future, which seemed nonexistent in many ways," he said. "They seemed to realize they were on the road to nowhere."

As part of its effort to look into other communities with teen crime waves, the Tampa Bay-based Caruthers Institute has partnered with another research firm, Human Impact Partners. The national nonprofit, based in Oakland, Calif., focuses on public health research and advocacy.

Kim Gihuly, program director of the nonprofit’s Health Instead of Punishment initiative, said her arm of the study is looking at nontraditional practices like restorative justice. The evidence-backed technique, which typically involves a teen apologizing and giving back to the victim in some way, has gained traction in public schools.

"It’s pretty clear that (the system) isn’t working, so why not try something out of the box?" Gihuly said. "The system is in a place where some kind of innovative thinking needs to happen."

Caruthers said he is particularly interested in solutions that get at the juvenile auto thieves’ motivations. His resume includes work on the "truth" anti-tobacco campaign that broke the mold when it got teens to stop smoking.

Telling teenagers that smoking would kill them hadn’t been an effective advertising tool, Caruthers said, because "What do we know about teenagers? They’re immortal, and they’re omnipotent."

But explaining "that there’s this industry called Big Tobacco" played to teens’ anti-authority interests, making the ad campaign a big success.

"I was really able to learn how you can change culture through social science, and I think that’s going to play a key role here," Caruthers said. "In general, the youths are doing what the systems in their lives are incentivizing them to do."

Although based locally, the Caruthers Institute has typically focused on national issues. Its past studies looked into civil citations for juveniles and the work of K-12 education foundations. Turning its attention to a hyperlocal issue was a no-brainer, Caruthers said, given the danger to the community.

Deborrah Brodsky, a member of the project’s advisory committee, said she expects some recommendations to address the home lives of the young thieves.

"These kids have all been traumatized," said Brodsky, the director of Florida State University’s Project on Accountable Justice, a public policy research lab. "I’m not saying that is an excuse for them to make other victims, but it’s not something you can ignore, either."

Brodsky said that as they push forward, they hope to provide the community "a road map to better outcomes."

"These are kids," she said. "They have an immense capacity for change. And we should not (be) giving up. You cannot lock this problem away. It’s filtered through the community too deeply now."

Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected] Follow @lisagartner. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] Follow @ZackSampson.

Comments
Woman, pushing stroller, struck by vehicle on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa

Woman, pushing stroller, struck by vehicle on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa

TAMPA— A woman, pushing a stroller, was struck by a vehicle near Bayshore Boulevard and W Knights Avenue, according to the Tampa Police Department.The woman and child were hit by a northbound car at 11:43 a.m. Both were taken to a hospital with serio...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Woman, 87, killed in collision while driving wrong way near Brooksville, FHP says

Woman, 87, killed in collision while driving wrong way near Brooksville, FHP says

BROOKSVILLE— An 87-year-old motorist died Tuesday night after she collided with a pickup truck while driving on the wrong side of the road, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash occurred about 8:50 p.m. as Patricia Green Marlette of Brook...
Updated: 6 hours ago
FDLE: Victim in $480,000 scam is heiress to Wrigley gum fortune

FDLE: Victim in $480,000 scam is heiress to Wrigley gum fortune

A woman state authorities say was scammed out of $480,000 by two of her employees is an heiress to the Wrigley chewing gum fortune.The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed Tuesday that the victim in the case is Helen Rich, 69, formerly Hel...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Carlton: Lowering the American flag for the newly dead at school — again

Carlton: Lowering the American flag for the newly dead at school — again

In a scene repeated at public buildings across the country, the American flag in front of the library outside my office window was lowered to half-staff this week.This time for 10 dead in Texas.In February, the American flag was similarly half-staff ...
Published: 05/23/18
Largo man broke into jewelry store, cut himself on glass and bled all over everything, police say

Largo man broke into jewelry store, cut himself on glass and bled all over everything, police say

A Largo man was arrested Monday after police said he broke into the front door of a jewelry store and stole $10,000 in jewelry, but cut himself in the process and left blood all over the store.Police arrested Jaime Williams, 31, on a charge of burgla...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Police: St. Pete man who pried a safe out of the wall in custody

Police: St. Pete man who pried a safe out of the wall in custody

ST. PETERSBURG — It took more than an hour for a 25-year-old man to break into a restaurant, pry a safe out of the wall, drag it through the back and then wrestle it into his car, according to police.That was last week. Michael Murphy was arrested Tu...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Search underway for North Carolina man missing from Tampa-based Carnival Paradise

Search underway for North Carolina man missing from Tampa-based Carnival Paradise

The U.S. Coast Guard was searching Tuesday for a 50-year-old North Carolina man who reportedly fell off a Tampa-based cruise ship.The Coast Guard Key West received a call from the cruise ship Carnival Paradise about 10 a.m. saying the man, Brian Lamo...
Published: 05/22/18
Deputies: 10th-grader brings loaded gun to Bradenton high school

Deputies: 10th-grader brings loaded gun to Bradenton high school

A Bradenton Bayshore High School student faces charges after he brought a gun on campus on Tuesday, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.Around 11:45 a.m., school resource officers were alerted by school staff that the student, a 10th-gra...
Published: 05/22/18
Police swarm Panama City street in apparent shootout

Police swarm Panama City street in apparent shootout

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Multiple law enforcement agencies have surrounded a Panama City apartment building where an active shooter is barricaded inside.City spokeswoman Caitlyn Lawrence says it’s still an active situation. The suspect has been firing on ...
Published: 05/22/18
FedEx driver, 22, dies in crash on Interstate 4

FedEx driver, 22, dies in crash on Interstate 4

TAMPA — A 22-year-old FedEx driver died on Interstate 4 Tuesday when a tire blew out on his freight truck, which veered into the path of a Chevrolet Volt, state troopers said. Two teen girls in the Volt survived the 10:21 a.m. crash. A photo shows ci...
Published: 05/22/18