School's out, so youth crime is up

Since school let out two weeks ago, neighborhoods citywide have seen a spike in criminal activity.

Published June 4, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG -- It feels like summer, the weather's hot, life slows down to a pace Sheriff Andy Taylor could enjoy.

"But we're not in Mayberry, that's the trouble," said George Kajtsa, spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department, of a rash of auto break-ins over the past few weeks. "It's just kids, but it's still a felony."

Since school let out two weeks ago, neighborhoods citywide have seen a spike in criminal activity.

"All hell is breaking loose," said Karl Nurse, the president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, who returned from a week's vacation to dozens of complaints.

Nurse said he has heard from mostly southern neighborhoods, but Kajtsa said the calls come from all over the city, usually in bunches, but otherwise with no pattern. The same thing happens during holidays when school-aged children suddenly have time on their hands.

Kajtsa calls these upticks "sprees" and said they are crimes of opportunity.

"It's amazing how many people leave their car doors open," he said, though there are also some home burglaries on the list. Kids cruise the streets looking for many cars parked either in a mall or a quiet neighborhood, then they go one by one trying doors and taking what they find.

Alarms might scare criminals away, Kajtsa said, but neighbors don't respond to the howls so the perpetrators just move on. The only solution is to keep valuables out of sight or, better, out of a car, and keep cars locked and even in the garage with it locked too.

Nurse said the crimes he's hearing about are more than just break-ins. He says it's a product of inattention by the city administration.

"We're so focused on saying it's another wonderful day that it makes it more of a challenge to take a hard look," he said.

Many of the perpetrators who are caught are minors who rarely get real punishment, Kajtsa said. Neighborhood groups have banded together to pressure judges to give out harsh sentences, but such action doesn't address juvenile cases.

One who knows the feeling personally is City Council member Jeff Danner, who has been victimized himself. In the last year, he has had both his cars stolen and over the past several years, his home has been burglarized three times.

"We're a little frustrated by all of that," he said, noting that on one occasion, thieves ripped his garage doors off their hinges to get at his property. He has lost a couple of expensive bicycles and a valuable set of construction tools in burglaries where no one was ever caught. He said some people leave themselves open to crime, but he was locked up tight and still became a victim.


Neighborhood meetings

The Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization will hold a meeting about traffic issues on 54th Avenue S Tuesday at the Eckerd College Flamingo Room at 6:30 p.m. The MPO, which is responsible for transportation planning countywide, is working with the city of St. Petersburg and the Florida Department of Transportation to assess traffic issues on 54th Avenue S between 28th Street and 41st Street. Information from this workshop will be used to identify improvements to address congestion, safety and other traffic issues.

The next meeting of the Live Oaks Neighborhood Association will be Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Triangle, 52nd Street and Burlington Avenue. There will be a presentation about Florida-Friendly native plants and a free hotdog dinner.

The Broadwater Civic Association's general meeting will be Thursday at 7 p.m. at the National Guard Armory, 3601 38th Ave. S. Featured programs are hurricane preparedness with Bob Ballou from St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue, and Preserving Our Bay with Peter Clark from Tampa Bay Watch.

There will be a public hearing on proposed changes to the Pinellas County Charter in City Council chambers Thursday at 6 p.m. This will be the last opportunity to discuss ballot wording of a charter change, on which residents will vote in November.

The Grand Central District will hold a benefit for Creative Clay and St Pete Pride 2006 from 5-8 p.m. June 11 at Grand Kitchen & Bath, 2448 Central Ave. Visitors can sample fine wines and hors d'oeuvres. Tickets, $30 in advance, $35 at the door, are available at Classy Flowers, 2452 Central Ave., and the Metro Center, 3170 Third Ave N.

Readers wishing to submit information for the Neighborhood Notebook can contact Paul Swider either by e-mail at pswider@sptimes.com or by phone at 892-2271. Neighborhood association presidents who would like to publish their organization's information directly to the Web on their own itsyourtimes.com blog should also contact Paul Swider.