Online petition urges St. Petersburg City Council to explore study’s solutions to teen auto theft epidemic

Change.org petition is in response to city government’s unwillingness to address root causes
of a crisis that has led to an estimated 13 deaths in the City in the past four years.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— A Change.org petition is gathering signatures to urge St. Petersburg City Council to take a study’s recommendation to move toward new solutions designed to address the root causes of the city’s teen auto theft epidemic.

The Change.org petition – titled “Explore study’s solutions to St. Petersburg’s teen auto theft epidemic” – is in response to the St. Petersburg Youth & Family Services (YFS) Committee in February postponing for the third time consideration of data supported solutions proposed in a recent study conducted by The Caruthers Institute, a local nonprofit think tank.

The committee also tabled the issue twice in 2019, most recently in November. The YFS Committee must first vote to explore the recommended solutions before the full City Council can hear and vote on the proposal.

The Petition http://chng.it/bkg5kzdRqq is for anyone who lives, works or plays in The Sunshine City – all of whom could be injured or killed by a dangerous joyride. More specifically, the petition reads: “Tell St. Petersburg, Florida City Council the status quo isn’t working – please take study’s recommendation to explore its community-driven, data-based solutions to the city’s juvenile auto theft crisis before more are killed or injured.”

“We are six years into this dangerous joyriding crisis and the city has done absolutely nothing to address the root causes,” said Dewey Caruthers, president of The Caruthers Institute, which posted the petition. “This is an opportunity to speak out on a public safety threat that is more dangerous than most residents and tourists realize.”

St. Petersburg has been ground zero for a dangerous joyriding crisis that has spread throughout Pinellas County as well as surrounding areas. Pinellas County has led the state – and at times the nation – in its number of juvenile auto theft arrests. The study shows law enforcement efforts have been effective to a point, but have made only a dent in the enormous problem. “The study is clear that the City cannot arrest its way out of this problem,” Caruthers said.

Over the past five years, an estimated 13 people have been killed in Pinellas County, while the City has averaged more than three juvenile auto theft arrests per week. St. Petersburg has ranked first in in the state for juvenile auto theft arrests three times in the five-year period, and another year ranked second – much higher rates than larger cities like Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa. Last year, three of the state’s top 20 zip codes for juvenile auto theft arrests were in St. Petersburg. The study is available at https://the-caruthers-institute.foleon.com/study/october-2019/welcome/

The study recommends community-driven solutions to address the complicated problem where teens steal cars for the thrill, not the money, and consequences like juvenile detention and ankle monitors can serve to increase street cred. “The problem is that these kids could have cared less about their crimes,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times in 2018. “They had no concern whatsoever about the juvenile justice system.”

Recommendations emphasize accountability and rehabilitation for the offender, who must make amends with the victim. Strategies include using “credible messengers” to get through to teen offenders in ways that police officers never will, and using “restorative community conferences” that require the offenders to literally face their victims and hear the pain their crimes have caused.

“These data-supported efforts are national models proven to have much lower rates of recidivism for participants than for teens who went through the standard juvenile system,” Caruthers said.

The proposal before the YFS Committee is for the Institute to do a $25,000 project to further research the national models and create a recommended plan for the programs in St. Petersburg.

The study included input from local officials like law enforcement, judges, elected officials and community organizations, as well as national experts such as former judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and those currently working as social workers, child advocates and policy makers with state and national juvenile justice organizations. Additionally, insight was gained from youth who have been involved in stealing cars for dangerous joyriding.

About The Caruthers Institute
The Caruthers Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think-tank that conducts research, crafts solutions and leads advocacy on emerging issues for the purpose of data-driven social change. Based in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Institute believes important policy decisions should be made based upon data – not ideology, partisanship or political influence.

2020-02-24T18:08:39-05:00 Monday, February 24, 2020|

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