Friday, November 17, 2017

Editorial: Changes needed to stop kids from stealing cars


A kid is arrested every day for stealing a car in Pinellas County, a rate that outpaces even Los Angeles. This is not normal. Everywhere else in Florida, most auto theft arrests involve adults. Not in Pinellas, where kids as young as 10 prowl neighborhoods for unlocked cars, take off on high-speed joyrides and boast about their triumphs on social media, confounding law enforcement and endangering the public. A special report in the Tampa Bay Times exposing this frightening trend, which has eluded explanation or solution, should prompt the entire community to take notice and act to reverse it.

Examining juvenile car theft arrest records from an 18-month period, Times reporters Lisa Gartner and Zachary T. Sampson found that a stunning number of people leave their cars unlocked, often with a spare key inside. Kids are stealing cars because it's easy, and they have little fear of real punishment. Florida's system for evaluating juvenile crimes is so loose a kid could steal two cars within a month and get sent home both times.

In a single year, Pinellas law enforcement arrested nearly 500 juveniles for car theft. With kids accounting for 62 percent of all auto theft arrests, Pinellas consistently leads the state in kids committing this particular crime. And it's little surprise that these young thieves are terrible drivers. Every four days in Pinellas, a kid crashes a stolen car. At least 44 times, kids in stolen cars injured themselves or others. And one-third of all kids arrested during the 18 months examined by the Times were arrested again.

That high rate of recidivism calls for a new look at how Florida assesses which juvenile defendants to jail before trial. The system, which aims to keep those deemed dangerous away from the public, does little to punish or discourage kids who steal cars. In fact, car theft is considered a property crime in the juvenile code. But that fails to account for the hazard posed by a kid without a license trying to elude law enforcement and driving recklessly on public roads. Law enforcement agencies should maintain their policies of not chasing stolen cars, but it's clear that current laws aren't tough enough.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, would allow more pretrial detentions for "prolific" felony offenders and require prosecutors to bring cases to trial within 45 days of arrest. The Department of Juvenile Justice is also set to re-evaluate its points system that currently allows car thieves to get arrested and released only to steal again before ever facing a judge. These reforms offer a tough but reasonable crackdown.

Then there's this: People need to lock their cars. At least 250 cases the Times studied involved unlocked cars. That's three a week. Fifty-three cars that were stolen had been left running. Worse, the thieves are regularly taking guns from unlocked cars. That's amplifying the danger of what could happen after a kid goes joyriding.

The Sheriff's Office and city police departments have teamed up and formed task forces to try to get ahead of the problem. They bring out police dogs and helicopters to pursue thieves and follow their trails on Facebook and Instagram. But law enforcement alone can't solve this. Records show that the growth in juvenile car theft arrests is happening primarily among black kids — and by every account it's not due to racial discrimination. It will require a broad and candid community conversation about neighborhood vigilance, parental involvement and instilling a real fear of consequences in kids to attack this problem at its roots.


Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Editorial: Deputies’ rescue reflects best in law enforcement

The bravery two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies showed a week ago is a credit to them and reflects the professionalism of the office.Deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues responded at dusk Nov. 11 after 82-year-old Leona Evans of Webster...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included — along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election — an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17