Study shows Pinellas teen auto theft epidemic going strong

St. Petersburg-based think tank reports Pinellas averages four arrests per week
for dangerous joyriding that threatens public safety.

ST PETERSBURG, Fla. (October 28, 2019)—The teen auto theft epidemic in Pinellas County, which has killed 12 people in the past 3 ½ years, continues to be a public safety threat with an average of four arrests for per week for dangerous joyrides, a new study by a St. Petersburg think tank shows.

The solutions-driven study, conducted by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Caruthers Institute, combined national best practices and expert input with local knowledge gained from law enforcement officials, community leaders, and Pinellas youth who’ve been involved in thefts. Study at

The study reveals that Pinellas ranks second in the state for the most arrests (finishing behind Broward County). While there were 17 fewer arrests compared to fiscal year 2018-19 — down from 225 to 208 — the drop was so small that Pinellas still averages four arrests per week.

“Elected officials should quit looking to law enforcement, which has done all it can, to solve the entire problem,” said Dewey Caruthers, president of the Institute, noting “we cannot arrest our way out of this epidemic.” Reflecting this stance, the study credits the positive impact of the Habitual Offender Monitoring Enforcement (HOME) program, led by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office as part of a collaboration of nine law enforcement agencies.

St. Petersburg ranked fourth among cities in the state in 2018-19, with more juvenile auto theft arrests than larger cities like Tampa and Jacksonville, according to the study. Also, St. Petersburg ranked second overall for the past five years, with Orlando taking the top ranking.

This troubling data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice runs counter to the stance of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has claimed the city already has “a solid grip on the issue” and that “strides have been remarkable thanks to our police efforts and our community’s help.” Many other elected officials throughout Pinellas County take a similar position, according to Caruthers. “But these opinions don’t match the facts,” he said.

The county’s response to the epidemic has ignored root causes, according to a key finding of the study. To stem dangerous joyriding, root causes like trauma, incentives and social norms need to be addressed with data-supported solutions. “After extensive research we have the best thinking in the nation on how to cost-effectively drive down juvenile auto theft rates and increase public safety,” Caruthers said, noting that more general prevention programs and activities for at-risk youth are only a small part of the solution.

Another key finding is that arrests of white juveniles are on the rise as arrests of black youth decline at a similar rate, which is supported anecdotally by law enforcement. This shows how the epidemic is spreading beyond race, geography and income.

Among the study’s recommendations: Have offenders make amends with victims. Use “credible messengers” to work with the youth as interrupters to break the chain of repeat offending. And consider using some of the methods and strategies associated with disease control. “It will take the community, not just cops, to solve this problem,” Caruthers said.

The study is independent — removed from political ideology, partisan narratives and local politics – with its $55,000 cost funded by the Pinellas Community Foundation, United Way Suncoast, Clark Family Fund and St. Petersburg City Council. Research was assisted by Human Impact Partners, which was funded by the Kresge Foundation.

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. Visit for more information.


2020-03-26T21:48:15-04:00 Sunday, October 27, 2019|

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