Expert eyes are examining Pinellas County's juvenile car thefts, a welcome development in an epidemic that continues to endanger the community. The Caruthers Institute think tank has launched an $85,000 research project and will make policy recommendations to state lawmakers. Solutions and explanations are still sorely needed before this reckless behavior claims another life.
The Tampa Bay Times series "Hot Wheels" detailed how car theft among teenagers is an outsized problem in Pinellas County. More juveniles than adults are arrested for grand theft auto in Pinellas, a trend that is not mirrored anywhere else in Florida. Reporters found that a kid crashes a stolen car in Pinellas every four days on average. This week, a flurry of thefts has rattled residents in the upscale Old Northeast neighborhood of St. Petersburg.
The Caruthers project will study other places that have experienced teen crimes waves, a potentially useful comparison because no one has so far been able to explain why juvenile car theft is so rampant in Pinellas. Researchers also plan to examine the home lives of the teenage thieves. That's especially important given that a small group of teenagers from poor pockets of St. Petersburg are responsible for most of the thefts, the data shows. The teens who spoke to Times reporters said they steal cars out of boredom and for the social media cachet it brings. And, they often say, because no one at home is paying attention or cares.
Getting to the bottom of those deep-rooted issues is the beginning of reversing this deadly trend.