ST. PETERSBURG — Lagarrian "Sweetball" Donaldson is the new face of the city's rising property crime problem.
Police Chief Chuck Harmon points to Donaldson, 20, as an example of the kind of career criminal he says is largely behind the 10.4 percent rise in burglaries the first six months of the year.
Donaldson has been arrested 11 times, the first time at age 11. Five of those cases involved burglary of a vehicle. Police have four active arrest warrants for offenses including fleeing and eluding, burglary, failure to appear, battery and striking his pregnant, 17-year-old girlfriend.
At age 17, Donaldson served two days in jail for fleeing police in a car and 41 days for resisting an officer eight months later. He served 106 days of a three-year prison sentence stemming from a burglary in 2007.
"This is how I know this gentleman," Harmon said. "We've been trying to look at the worst of the worst, and every week we have a meeting, me and the senior staff, where we talk about these individuals. And by now I feel like I know Mr. Donaldson."
Harmon said he issued his public appeal for help in finding Donaldson because "we think we have exhausted our ability to do it."
"What do you learn when you've been arrested 10 times? How not to get arrested again," Harmon said. "We almost educate them to be better criminals."
That wouldn't be the case, Harmon said, if Donaldson had remained incarcerated.
"The frustrating part is this is 10 cases and he's only 20 years old," Harmon said. "I'm not for throwing away the key the first time someone is in jail, but this gentleman has crossed the line from being someone you can rehabilitate to someone who is continuing to victimize the community."
Donaldson is a suspect in the March burglary of an auto parts store and other violent and drug crimes. He was described in his last arrest, in 2007, as a black male, 5 feet 5 and 145 pounds.
The emphasis on career criminals is a departure from Harmon's recent assertion that the recession was largely to blame for the rise in burglaries. Though men like Donaldson are considered the main problem, he said, the economic woes have pushed St. Petersburg's crime statistics higher.
"We've been worried about property crime for a year," Harmon said. "The economy is bad. Dropouts are up. We recognized some of this a year ago."
In a public appeal issued Wednesday, police listed a series of steps they are taking to combat property crimes. Two crime prevention officers were added to the Neighborhood Crime Watch Program. Patrols in neighborhoods and business districts were increased. And additional detectives assigned to the burglary and economic crimes units.
Ten tips for preventing property crimes will be included in city water bills this month.