By on May 1, 2017

[Image: fourbyfourblazer/Flickr]

Twitter users are well aware of the hilarious and perplexing misadventures — usually fueled by alcohol or meth — of “Florida Man” and “Florida Woman,” but in Pinellas County, the person behind the wheel of your recently stolen vehicle is much more likely to be a Florida boy or girl.

There’s an epidemic afoot in the Gulf Coast county. Local law enforcement is scrambling to combat a growing tide of repeat juvenile car thieves as the danger on the county’s roads grows. Meanwhile, it seems local residents haven’t exactly made the thefts a difficult task.

The problem in the Clearwater-St. Petersburg area comes alive through a recent investigation by the Tampa Bay Times.

It isn’t an issue of statistics skewing the problem into something that looks worse than it is, either. Of all counties in the U.S., including far more populous jurisdictions, Pinellas is tops for kiddie car crime. In 2015, the county recorded 499 felony arrests for juvenile auto theft.

The same year, 62 percent of the county’s stolen vehicles were purloined by individuals under the age of 18.

The offenders, who frequently film their exploits and end up crashing, were as young as 10. A popular pastime — “doing the dash,” according to a two-time perp — involves kids burying a stolen vehicle’s speedometer needle while live-streaming the act via their phones.

The epidemic turned fatal long ago. Last year, three teen girls drowned after their stolen Honda Accord ended up at the bottom of a carefully landscaped cemetery pond. In response to the trend, local law enforcement has been forced to shovel scarce resources towards the problem — helicopters, dedicated officers, dogs.

While it sounds like the plot of an old B-movie about the dangers of smoking dope or hanging out with “artists,” the problem is all too real, and it’s not fueled by monetary gain or other adult motivations.

“How we haven’t had more people run over, injured, killed, just walking down the street, small kids, I have no idea,” St. Petersburg Detective Tim Brown told the Tampa Bay Times. “Because they come around the corner on two wheels. And it’s just — it’s fun for them.”

By the newspaper’s tally, 742 juvenile offenders were arrested for auto theft over an 18-month period in Pinellas County (January 2015 to June 2016). In 250 of the 529 thefts — 39 percent — kids entered an unlocked vehicle and discovered keys helpfully left behind by the owner. And that’s not the only thing they found. In numerous instances (52, to be exact), they also stumbled upon the owner’s gun.

A gun found in a stolen car was used to kill a Tarpon Springs police officer in 2014. Others were used against other kids in other stolen cars.

As Florida lists vehicle theft as a property crime, the punishment — assuming they survive the “dash” — amounts to a $300 fine. For one 17-year-old perp, the frizzy hair in her mug shot was the low point of her brief arrest.

Social standing among a peer group counts for much of the motivation. Fueled by social media posts, the majority of the thefts are simply the county’s bored kids making a game of it on Facebook and Instagram. Using social media connections as a trail of breadcrumbs, police discovered that 57 percent of the county’s underage car thieves all belong to the same loosely connected online peer group.

Basically, kids that steal cars are friends with kids who steal cars.

Naturally, there’s competing theories as to the underlying cause — a laid-back Florida attitude, boredom, absentee parents, or simply a lack of money among many youth are all possible motivators. Law forbids police officers from pursuing drivers who pose a greater risk to the public if chased, so suspected perpetrators of property crimes — such as auto theft — find it easy to make a getaway.

“For somebody to have to stand idly by and watch a juvenile drive around in circles at 100 miles per hour, waiting for him to kill a kid and then take the blame for it when he kills a kid because they didn’t do anything,” said Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter, “that’s not a fun day.

Should one of the teens find themselves in the arms of the law, state law dictates they’ll only spend a maximum of 21 days in juvenile detention before seeing their day in court. During that time, wholesome meals are served three times a day. There’s also plenty of networking.

One 17-year-old offender called the experience “day care,” adding that it’s the norm to exchange phone numbers with other car thieves. A large slice of the arrestees end up as repeat offenders, sometimes seeing the inside of the detention center a half dozen times.

For now, all that police, the judicial community and motorists can do — aside from locking their car doors — is throw up their hands in frustration, as there’s no sign of the trend ending anytime soon.

[Image: fourbyfourblazer/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]

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41 Comments on “In This Florida County, 62 Percent of Car Thieves are Kids...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    “Naturally, there’s competing theories as to the underlying cause”

    adolescents as an age group are irresponsible, destructive thieves who have figured out they can use their status as minors to get away with pretty much anything.

    • 0 avatar

      Broken homes, no relationships with fathers, self-aggrandizing community ‘leaders’ more focused on castigating the police force and pointing the finger at the city than caring about their own neighborhoods. Shall I continue?

  • avatar

    I live here and these ‘kids’ are 16-17 year-old delinquents from the south side/midtown of St. Pete or Pinellas Park. You read into that what you will.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      We go now to our reporter on the scene, Flybrian what’s going on down there?

      • 0 avatar
        Chocolatedeath

        He left the cap on the lense. darn you.

      • 0 avatar
        Chocolatedeath

        As a former investigator if someone tries to convince me that 1 demographic from one side of town is responsible for one type of crime for a whole city…I have questions….

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Well you’d have to have data to make an argument one way or another. Whether this data is available or even being collected I could not say, but it seems these days data collection tends to be lacking depending on the subject matter.

    • 0 avatar
      Car Ramrod

      Right you are. The interior of Pinellas is a hellhole, as are parts of tarpon springs, where I originally saw this story a few days ago as a memo from their police department. Glad I moved away.

  • avatar
    notwhoithink

    The shocking part of all of this is that felony grand theft (along with a litany of moving violations, reckless endangerment, etc) is relegated to being a simple “property crime” punishable by a $300 fine and a max of 21 days.

  • avatar
    2manycars

    Young people are idiots by definition, it comes with the territory. I trust no one that is much under the age of 50.

  • avatar
    deanst

    How long before government demands remote access to cars to shut them down if stolen? Seems like a feasible solution to any car theft.

    (Cue the howls from the rabid right on government interference in private property!)

  • avatar
    Joss

    Need a special boot camp Florida way. No phones, no internet, no sugar. Vigorous exercise. Only entertainment holy bible & Welk reruns. Radically a place your average teen don’t wanna be.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Only entertainment holy bible ”

      that part wouldn’t fly, nor should it.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        I think it’s supposed to be satirical. At least, I /hope/ it’s satirical. Even an old Lutheran like me would wither away on nothing but the Bible and Lawrence Welk.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Because the State is God.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          no, it’s because freedom of religion does not mean “freedom to cram your religion down other peoples’ kids throats.”

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Fair enough, I’d roll with that; everyone keep your religion to yourself (including the Religion of Peace).

          • 0 avatar

            by saying “it’s because freedom of religion does not mean “freedom to cram your religion down other peoples’ kids throats” is evidence of your “religion” being crammed down the throats of other people. In fact, claiming anything to be universally accepted by all is cramming your “religion” down other people’s throats.

            Oops! Guilty as charged.

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    Start charging them as adults. The measly $300 fine is nothing for punishment.

    There’s no doubt that most of the kids that are stealing these cars will continue to do that–and more–when they are older.

    When it comes to serious matters like this, treating kids with kid gloves isn’t the right answer.

    Some kids need more than jail, restituion and deferments/probation. I think a strict European boarding school would do the trick.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    “As Florida lists vehicle theft as a property crime, the punishment — assuming they survive the “dash” — amounts to a $300 fine.
    __________

    I think we’ve identified the problem right here.

    Stealing a car should be several years in real prison.

    This is not like shoplifting a candy bar.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    Here in the peoples republic of New York the legislature decided we don’t have our fair share of juvenile criminals. So to remedy this problem they passed a law to prevent criminals under the age of 18 being charged as an adult.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    Is it that the thieves are kids or is it just that the thieves that get caught are kids?

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    My friend is a Miami Dade county cop and the amount of auto theft is incredible. Often the cars are stolen and used for “smash and grabs” – one car is blasted through the front or side of a big box store and the follow up kids in other stolen rides raid the store and steal basketball shirts and crap like that. They know what cars have speed limiters in them and which ones are easy to grab.

    One night on patrol the call came in that another smash and grab was under way. He pulled off the highway and waited to see if the perps would head his way back into Miami. He was on the money – in the distance several sets of headlights were closing in on him. He was parked about a half mile before a “fly-over”, a lifted bridge that goes over the highway below and makes a long sweeping curve. The radar in the patrol car indicated nearly 140 MPH. He knew they would never negotiate the curve at that speed. All four cars pinballed between the walls of the flyover. The cars were all demolished. Too bad they all survived. Society would have been better off had they all died. Instead the residents of Florida got to pay for their medical bills.

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    Pardon me for asking, but is there a racial element to these crimes?

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      Black handguns matter.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Black rifles matter.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          Wait ~
          .
          I’m beginning to sense maybe some air weight hate here ? .
          .
          -Nate
          (for those who don’t ken forearms they didn’t come in black)

          • 0 avatar
            jpolicke

            Not a bit! They’re great choices for something that gets carried a lot and used very little. Wheelguns make excellent sense for personal protection, if only they didn’t cost so much these days.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            ? Remember the tiny little .25 Cal sirhan sirhan carried as a backup ? .

            I had one too and experimented with cross cutting the bullets so they’d mush room, it made a very good close in defensive weapon but sadly I loaded it to my G.F. when she began working as a Home Health Care Nurse in a very bad part of Los Angeles, then her ex hubby got out of prison and she took off with it still in her purse .

            Oops .

            -Nate

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    This reminds me of parts of NY and NJ in the 80’s and 90’s. The auto theft laws were toughened, (probably not changed since the Juvenile delinquent 50’s). Changes in scraping laws, Plus cars also became harder to steal when manufacturers installed anti-theft technologies such as immobilizers and VIN on parts.

    Peak baby boom was another reason why crime crested in those years.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/12/upshot/heres-why-stealing-cars-went-out-of-fashion.html?_r=0

    • 0 avatar
      EAF

      There have been times where I have had to bypass an immobilizer or two, when an antenna or receiver have gone bad for example, it is a monumental task. These “kids” in Florida must be incredibly handy with software!

      Lock your cars, lock your homes, and lock your guns!!!

  • avatar
    cdrmike

    Such an easy fix. New punishment is community service- bright orange vest with an big offender stamp and pulling roadside weeds in the Florida heat until you think you are going to die, boy!

    • 0 avatar
      xeenu

      The easiest thing to do is to make cars harder to steal. And that will have immediate success as well. I really am baffled why someone would leave their car unlocked with the key inside. A car should always be safely locked and the key with the rightful owner. Then this rightful owner could think of additional security measures as well. Install an alarm (a good one and not the factory type). A lock for the shifter or transmission like Bear-Lock or construct (https://pamack.de/ganghebelsperre.html).

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    The parents of the three teens killed are now suing the engineers who designed the pond. No safeguards were put into place to keep the car afloat. Additional civil suits may be filed against the estates of the deceased whose monuments caused the car to be diverted into the pond.

  • avatar
    cartunez

    Why on earth is anyone shocked here about the state of this country? Several foreign wars, the war of drugs, the war on men, the rise of the police state, etc etc. You reap what you sow and America has planted a massive crop. On the positive side I used to live in Apollo Beach Fl (south of tampa) and the area was very nice.

  • avatar
    Ostrich67

    Wow, the gun nuts, racists, conspiracy theorists and Trump supporters (redundant I know) are out in force tonight!

    “State of this country”? The crime rate has never been lower overall, local hotspots notwithstanding.


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