Unit helps reduce frequency of automobile theft
Auto thefts in St. Petersburg averaged 2,415 per year for the past five years, an average of slightly more than 200 stolen cars every month.
Most stolen vehicles in the city are used for joyriding by juveniles. Nearly all of the cars — 90 percent — are recovered, most within 72 hours.
Most teenagers arrested for auto theft are given a court date and sent home after their arrest. The sanctions are minimal — usually probation — so there's little incentive for them to change their ways. Of course, the rules change when they become an adult, so nearly all of them quit stealing cars after their 18th birthday.
In an effort to curb the problem, the auto theft unit formed a partnership with the Department of Juvenile Justice to identify repeat offenders. Many were found in violation and sentenced to a long-term (12 to 18 months) residential treatment program.
Also, the department investigates several car thefts a week where a criminal portrays themselves as the owner by completing an owner/seller affidavit and towing it to a local scrap metal business.
In many cases, the car was crushed before it was reported stolen. Because of this, the unit helped persuade state legislators to close a loophole that allowed the use of these affidavits in lieu of a vehicle title.
As a result, the number of auto thefts in 2008 dropped to 1,461 — a significant reduction of 39.5 percent from the 2,415 yearly average.
Last week, the unit earned the department's 2008 Unit of the Year Award at a ceremony sponsored by the St. Petersburg Elk's Lodge.
Bill Proffitt, St. Petersburg police spokesman