Advertisement
  1. News

Researcher says Pinellas' car theft crisis is fixable, but still more dangerous than most realize

From left: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Congressman Charlie Crist, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway during a meeting last year to discuss the car theft epidemic among Pinellas youth. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Mar. 26, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County's juvenile auto theft epidemic is still more dangerous than most people realize, a researcher told local officials Monday, but it is also more fixable than many believe.

A St. Petersburg-based think tank, The Caruthers Institute, has undertaken an $85,000 project to look at the deadly problem of teens stealing cars. Dewey Caruthers presented early findings to elected officials, law enforcement and community leaders Monday.

"The more you get into this, the more you tend to stay up at night going, 'Wow, we're living on borrowed time right now,' " said Caruthers, whose project was inspired by a Tampa Bay Times series last year about teens stealing cars called "Hot Wheels."

HOT WHEELS: Kids are driving Pinellas County's car-theft epidemic. It's a dangerous — sometimes deadly — game.

Among the recommendations Caruthers expects to make with the final study: Developing a conference system to bring victims of auto theft and suspects face-to-face; hiring mentors who have turned their lives around and can relate to young car thieves; and better connecting service providers who work with juvenile delinquents and their families.

It could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement several projects. Caruthers said the community needs to share the load to beat the crisis.

Attendees at the presentation included U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, state Rep. Ben Diamond and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The Times series found that over an 18-month period, police in Pinellas made more juvenile grand theft auto arrests than anywhere else in Florida. But children here continued to steal cars, in search of a thrill and social clout. Most took vehicles that were left unlocked, with keys inside. They sped off, sometimes the wrong way, careening into trees, light poles and other cars.

Nine Pinellas teens have died since Oct. 2015 in incidents related to auto theft.

Caruthers explained that the epidemic has festered under a failing juvenile justice system that "lacks accountability." Children, he said, do not feel swift or serious consequences for their crimes and fall into a cycle of committing more offenses.

"They're doing a very, very good job of gaming the system," he said. "Law enforcement needs more players on its team."

In Pinellas, he said, authorities have made gains with a program called Habitual Offender Monitoring Enforcement. Officers check on the county's most prolific juvenile offenders almost daily. Caruthers said he expects his final report to suggest an expansion of HOME.

Gualtieri, the sheriff, St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway and Pinellas Park Police Chief Michael Haworth all said car thefts are down in their jurisdictions.

But HOME has cost Gualtieri's agency alone about $2 million, he said. Moving forward, he said, officials will need a full accounting to determine what programs are working and what aren't to help local youth.

"There's dollars," the sheriff said. "Some of them need to be repurposed."

Caruthers said he plans to release his full study in June, when the group reconvenes.

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Joshua Michael Nichols, 21, was arrested by Pasco County Sheriff's deputies on Saturday in connection to the early morning shooting death of an unidentified man during an argument outside a Spring Hill home. [Pasco County Sheriff's Office] ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    One person is in custody. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
  2. Yesterday• Pasco
    Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, received his third “Paul Harris Award.” the highest recognition from the Rotary Club, on Aug. 15. The pin was presented to Dr. Musunuru, a nationally-recognized cardiologist, by Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins in recognition of his humanitarian and philanthropic services to the people of Pasco County and the State of Florida for nearly 40 years. Pictured: Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, (left) and Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins. Jemith Rosa/Hudson Rotary Club
    News and notes about your neighbors
  3. A Lancaster County Sheriff's deputy walks around the Old Skool Sports Bar and Grill, the scene of a shooting early in the morning, north of Lancaster, S.C. on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  Lancaster County Sherriff's Office said in a statement that the agency was investigating a fatal shooting that also injured several people.  (Jessica Holdman/The Post And Courier via AP) JESSICA HOLDMAN  |  AP
    Two adult males were shot and killed.
  4. Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, right, listens to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, during the Youth Climate Summit at United Nations headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez) EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ  |  AP
    Swedish 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg started the climate strike movement with her lone protest in front of her country’s parliament.
  5. Stay with tampabay.com for the latest news and updates. Times
    She was not in a crosswalk when she was hit, troopers say.
  6. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. JAMAL THALJI  |  Tampa Bay Times
    John Clark used a shotgun to kill his mother and another man. Then he returned to the crime scene with a shotgun, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  8. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  9. The main exhibit center at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa once stirred the imagination with dinosaurs and stars. Now, it's empty, but on the verge of rebirth as a movie studio.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.
  10. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP
    Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement