ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway said repeat juvenile offenders need longer detentions to avoid another tragedy similar to Thursday's, when three teens drowned after the stolen car they were driving ended up in a cemetery retention pond.
Chief Holloway said he plans to argue for those longer detentions in court.
"After a kid gets arrested for the third time, I want to be in court, or I want one of my assistant chiefs or the detective to be in court, to explain to the judge: Listen, this is the third time this young man or young woman has been released and they're still stealing cars," Holloway said Friday.
Judge James Pierce, one of the circuit court judges, responded by saying, "he might be barking up the wrong tree. There might be a better place for him to have a greater impact."
Both officials spoke the day after the three girls drove into that Pinellas County pond. Two of them had extensive criminal histories, and the police chief said the number of repeat juvenile offenders is growing.
"A lot of the kids are just saying, 'if I steal a car, I may stay there [detained] for 24 hours,'" Holloway said. "With three being no consequences, these kids are going to continue to do this."
Judge Pierce explained Florida law requires risk assessments by the Department of Juvenile Justice, and and crimes against property such as auto theft are not scored as big threats to the physical well-being of the offenders or others. "It has to be really something there to get those points up for it to even turn into a detention situation" the judge said, and even then "The youth can only be held for a certain amount of time according to Florida statutes, which typically is 21 days."
The door of the juvenile justice system has been a revolving one for several years, and law enforcement and the courts have new initiatives to intercede with repeat offenders. In January, Judge Pierce started a "Boys Court" to try to steer wayward youth with motivational speakers, mentoring and close monitoring.
Six weeks, ago the St. Petersburg Police Department hired the Reverend Kenneth Irby as an intervention director.
"We're actually going to be working with young people to put them in programs, to build on their relationships with folks who can be role models for them," Irby told FOX 13 News. "We have to really be involved in some teaching programs that are really not about school educational systems, but about life skills, some moral teaching."
Chief Holloway said the public could help curb car stealing by just remembering to take their keys and lock their cars. More than 80-percent of stolen vehicles are unlocked, sometimes with firearms inside.