St. Petersburg and Orlando lead state in deadly trend of juvenile auto thefts

ST PETERSBURG, FL (August 19, 2019) — St. Petersburg and Orlando lead the state in juvenile auto theft arrests, which have been rampant in Florida in the past five years, reports The Caruthers Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that is studying the problem. The Institute this week published the Florida Juvenile Auto Theft Arrests dashboard, which shows juvenile auto theft arrests by city for the past five years.

“Children as young as 13 years old are stealing cars and joyriding at speeds of 100 miles per hour,” said Dewey Caruthers, president of the Institute, noting the problem is much more dangerous than most Floridians realize.

The dashboard will also be part of a comprehensive study of the issue in Pinellas County being completed by The Caruthers Institute. That study, which will focus on potential solutions to the problem, will be released in September.

Florida has seen a 57% increase in juvenile auto theft arrests over the past five years, from 1,410 in fiscal year 2013-14 to 2,200 in FY 2017-18, according to data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice that the Institute utilized in its dashboard. Statewide juvenile auto theft arrests hit a high point of nearly 2,500 in FY 2015-16, followed by two consecutive years of small decreases of 5% each year.

St. Petersburg and Orlando rank by far the highest of all Florida cities with more than 900 arrests each (907 and 912 respectively), or approximately 3.5 a week each, for the five-year period. The next highest-ranking city, Miami with 743 arrests, is more than 150 arrests behind. The remainder of the top 10 in the state in rank order are Fort Lauderdale (667), Jacksonville (490), Pompano Beach (290), Clearwater (269), Tampa (259), Pensacola (240), and Tallahassee (238).

City trends often have spikes up and down, according to Caruthers. For instance, St. Petersburg dropped to second in the state three years ago, only to rise to number one again the following year. “A one-year drop may not continue downward because there are so many variables impacting the epidemic,” he said.

Since FY 2013-14, St. Petersburg has ranked first in in the state for juvenile auto theft arrests three times, another year ranking second, and the other ranking fifth – making it ground zero for what law enforcement and elected officials called an “epidemic” of teen auto thefts in Pinellas County. Over the past five years Pinellas County has led the nation, outpacing much larger counties like Los Angeles, California, as well as ranking first in the state four years (the other year ranking second) for juvenile auto theft arrests. Most notably, 12 people have died in the last three years in Pinellas County due to juveniles stealing cars and joyriding at dangerous speeds.

Orlando had the highest number of arrests in a single year with 265 in FY 2015-16. Over the five-year period Orlando has ranked first in the state for juvenile auto theft arrests twice (tied St. Petersburg one year) and ranked second three times.

The trends in St. Petersburg and Orlando, 100 miles apart, back up one of the Institute’s key findings: “The teen auto theft / joyriding epidemic is spreading like the flu, moving beyond geography, income and race.” Other cities along the I-4 corridor also have ranked high in juvenile auto theft arrests over the past five years: Clearwater (ranked seventh in the state), Tampa (eighth), and Lakeland (19th).

The Institute’s independent study on the issue will include national literature reviews, surveys of experts and nearly 80 interviews and meetings with judges, law enforcement, elected officials, community leaders, and youth and families who’ve been involved in teen auto theft, including teenagers arrested. The study’s community advisory board is led by a former juvenile judge.

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.

2019-08-19T18:58:28-04:00 Monday, August 19, 2019|