Car theft suspects tracked from Tampa to St. Pete, arrested

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A suspected auto-theft ring was taken down on Monday following a pursuit from Tampa to St Petersburg. Six people were arrested.

According to Tampa police, an officer ran the tags on a vehicle early Monday morning in New Tampa, discovering it was stolen on October 25 from northern Hillsborough County. 

When police attempted to stop the car, the driver fled at a high rate of speed.  Police stopped chasing the car and used their helicopter to continue following it to a home on 15th Avenue South in St. Pete.

"The helicopter is able to stay high enough that they don't even realize that it's up there, and it has the infrared camera that can see from a great distance and in the dark," said Tampa Police spokesperson Andrea Davis. "We're going to do everything we can to stop that person, obviously with the safety of the public in mind."

Helicopter pursuits are one of several tools police are using to combat auto thefts and burglaries, in addition to a task force formed by Tampa police, St. Pete police and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, pulling their resources to keep track of possible suspects.

According to Tampa police, New Tampa and other parts of District 1 -- meaning areas around Raymond James Stadium -- have been heavily targeted by auto thieves due to their close proximity to the bridge between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

"It's very unsettling. It really is," said South Tampa resident George Smith.

Smith, who lives in the Culbreath Bayou neighborhood of Tampa, said his neighborhood has been victimized as well.  About 20 cars have been burglarized and at least two cars have been stolen from the neighborhood over the last few months, according to neighbors.

In most cases, the residents left their car doors unlocked.

"That's their right and privilege, but I think that if they believe, like I do, the possibility of somebody coming in, lock your doors!"

Police are reminding the public that while the auto thefts and burglaries are being committed by a small group of people, most of them teenagers, they need the public's help to stop the crimes by keeping valuables out of sight and locking doors on both vehicles and garages.

"All law enforcement agencies, they just feel like a broken record by continually saying, 'Lock your car doors. Don't leave valuables in [your] car,'" said Davis. "It's not something that you have to be a rocket scientist to realize. If you have two cars next to each other, one has a purse and one doesn't, which one's going to become the target of the burglary?"