Program targets repeat-offender teens in Pinellas Co.

- A crowd of teens in front of a home in Gulfport stopped cold as a Pinellas County Sheriff deputy and Pinellas Park Police Officer stopped their vehicles and walked up.

"If they weren't doing this, he would probably not be home," said the mother of a teen who has been in trouble more times than she can count.

A niece, who has also committed many felonies, also lives at the home.

"See if she is at work," Deputy Shawn Back said to one of the teens.

Back is one of 16 law enforcement officers from nine agencies who spend their days tracking 125 teens in Pinellas County - who are in an exclusive, but unfortunate club.

Each has committed five felonies and are on probation.

A few nights ago, there was a shooting a few blocks from the home.

"That could have been something you drove past," said Back. "That's why you are supposed to be here."

The program was announced at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, and is targeted towards the 10-percent of teens who do not improve after taking part in a diversion program, Chief Anthony Holloway of the St. Petersburg Police Department explained.

Police say the teens continue to steal cars, beat people up, and commit other crimes, violating their probation.

"They get arrested on a Monday, they get released, they get arrested on a Wednesday, so there's no consequences to the crime," Holloway said.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri blamed some of the recidivism on gaps in laws that allow for some juvenile crimes to escape judgment. Some teens in the new program have committed more than 20 felonies.

"There just needs to be consequences," said Gualtieri. "The system has swung too far the other way and it needs to come back. Some of these kids need to go to jail."

The program, called Habitual Offender Monitoring Enforcement, or H.O.M.E., offers some glimmers of hope.
One of the program's goals is for kids to feel the constant contact, which includes GPS ankle monitors and several stops from an officer a week, or a day, if necessary.

"We are catching them now, before they become adults, and they can actually be successful members of society," said Back.

Sheriff Gualtieri said work is underway to lobby Tallahassee to amend the laws for the worst repeat offenders.

Some of the teens who spoke with FOX 13 News about the program said they had never had a deputy or officer stop by their home before this program.

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