Sunday, April 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Keep seeking solutions to reducing car thefts

Pinellas County leaders are coming together quickly in response to a Tampa Bay Times investigation about kids stealing cars, a sign of the urgency and public danger posed by this alarming local trend. The group, which included a cross section of civic, education and law enforcement leaders, met this week and correctly recognized that reversing this terrible epidemic will take comprehensive solutions. That is a good starting point for finding ways to stop kids before they hurt themselves or others and to make Pinellas County roads safer.

In a special report titled "Hot Wheels," Times reporters compiled 18 months of police reports on juveniles stealing cars and found a kid is arrested every day for grand theft auto in Pinellas. Every four days, a juvenile car thief crashes a car. The scale of the problem is outsized in Pinellas. It most other places in Florida, adults account for most auto theft arrests. But here, kids as young as 10 get behind the wheel and take off on hazardous joyrides. It's a crime that's effortless to commit and easy to repeat. A shocking number of cars that are stolen have been left unlocked, often with a key inside. And kids who steal face few repercussions. Even when they're caught, they are rarely held for long, so many go back out and steal again. On social media and in interviews with the Times, they brag about the excitement and cachet that comes with "doing the dash." The series illustrated a problem with roots that are cultural, concentrated among a relatively small number of kids who pose a widespread danger. And Florida's legal system is unequipped to halt it.

The findings led U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, to convene a meeting Monday night at St. Petersburg College's Midtown campus. It was a significant gathering that brought together mayors, city council members, law enforcement officials, school board members, academics, juvenile justice officials, public defenders, clergy and community activists. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri called the car theft scourge "the No. 1 public safety issue in Pinellas County." He helped craft legislation that passed this session and awaits Gov. Rick Scott's signature that seeks to crack down on "prolific" juvenile 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 the points system that allows car thieves to get arrested and released only to steal again before ever facing a judge. Those reforms are clearly needed to slow repeat car thieves and create more of a deterrent. But punitive measures alone won't solve this.

Times reporters found that the rise in juvenile car theft arrests can be traced to primarily African-American kids. The mother of one prolific thief acknowledged she hadn't seen her son, 13, in a week. Other parents practically begged for harsher penalties for their kids, who have no fear or respect for the legal system. Involving parents must be part of the equation. And there's no doubt that the public could do one simple thing to drastically cut down on thefts: lock their cars. A public campaign calling attention to this neglectful behavior is an appropriate and easy first step.

Beyond that, nothing else about this problem is easily solved. Pinellas leaders deserve credit for reacting quickly when confronted with a problem that few knew had gotten so bad. New legislation clamping down on the worst offenders will help, but collective action at the local level is the critical next step to curbing this deadly game. Don't let up.

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Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18