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  1. Opinion

Is St. Petersburg moving closer to solving the juvenile auto theft crisis? | Editorial

A think tank studying the issue has proposed two innovative approaches that could make a difference.
Three teens died in a fiery stolen SUV crash on Tampa Road in Palm Harbor in August 2017.

St. Petersburg’s juvenile auto theft problem has taken on a life of its own at this point. City Council member Brandi Gabbard called it the “number-one crime issue” in her district. So a new proposal from a local think tank to tackle the root causes instead of keeping the brunt of the burden on law enforcement is a step in the right direction.

The head of a local think tank who has studied these topics, Dewey Caruthers, says law enforcement has reached its limit. He suggests addressing the root causes of the problem through “community-driven efforts.” The first would be a “Cure Violence" model that treats violence like a contagious disease. Caruthers’ proposal would pair teens with peers who have been through a similar situation. The other program, restorative community conferences, would bring together the car thief and the victim. Similar programs have shown lower rates of recidivism for participants than for teens who went through the standard juvenile system.

Caruthers is asking the City Council for $25,000 to create a plan for these programs in St. Petersburg. City Council members are reticent to move ahead before talking with Police Chief Tony Holloway, and they have postponed discussion of the program until at least next month.

Bringing in the police chief for input is a positive, but the City Council should seriously consider any program that would offer an innovative approach to reducing car thefts. Caruthers is right. Law enforcement is doing all it can, and it’s time for the city to think outside the box.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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