ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It's an issue police have called an epidemic.
Teens continue to steal cars at alarming rates in Pinellas County – more than anywhere else in the country – and no one seems to know what to do to stop it.
Our news partners at The Tampa Bay Times found kids as young as 10 are stealing cars in Pinellas and using them for joyrides. Police arrested more juveniles for grand theft auto here than in any other county in Florida in 2015.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Florida, is among local leaders trying to figure out how to put the brakes on the issue. Wednesday night in the Community Room at St. Petersburg College Midtown, he met with local teens to hear their ideas about why they think it's happening and what to do to curb it.
“We have to not stop trying," Crist told 10News. "It is frustrating for sure, it is tragic at the worst but it’s important we stick to it.”
Wednesday evening's roundtable marks the third such meeting Crist has held since the spring. It comes just weeks after a group of teens, who police referred to as 'prolific offenders,' crashed a stolen vehicle in Palm Harbor. Three of the teens were killed.
Crist admits there is no one solution to the problem, and if a fix were so easy they'd have already found it.
Police have said in most of the thefts, teens aren't carjacking unsuspecting drivers but rather going for easy targets: unlocked vehicles with the keys left inside.
Florida state Rep. Wengay 'Newt' Newton, D-St. Petersburg, says it's important to not just focus on the offenders stealing the car, but also on the people who make it easy for them to do it.
He's working on a legislation that would create tough penalties for drivers who leave their keys in an unlocked vehicle.
"When you’ve got a high percentage of keys being left in the automobile, that’s giving kids the access," Newton told 10News.
"We have a lot of people making it extremely easy ... if they leave keys in a car and it’s taken, they should have some consequences.”
Newton compared it to a minor getting a hold of a loaded gun that wasn't properly locked away, but admits he's still working on specifics of the bill.
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