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Juvenile crime does damage no smile can erase

By Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008


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ST. PETERSBURG

He's a good looking kid with a big smile. At 15, he's also a drug addict with a fondness for stealing cars. His first arrest for auto theft was last December, but his first taste of the juvenile justice system did not appear to affect him much. He was arrested again on the same charge a day later. This time, juvenile authorities kept him a few days longer.

Still, no lesson learned. On Jan. 5, 23 days later, he was arrested again, this time charged with loitering and prowling, and possession of marijuana and cocaine.

This time, the juvenile authorities kept him for the maximum 21 days. On Feb. 6 he was arrested again. He ran from a stolen Dodge Intrepid that had crashed into a tree, then broke into a house to hide from police. This time the crimes were more serious, and so were the charges: auto theft, burglary, possession of burglary tools and obstruction. He was carrying a bag of tools and admitted to a detective that they were useful in stealing cars. The detective asked him why he steals cars, and he said, "Everyone does it where I live."

We find these casesfrustrating because the kids are supposed to learn a lesson from the juvenile justice process, but they seldom do. There is no doubt the juvenile system has a difficult job identifying the kids who can still be reached.

But seven felony arrests and three misdemeanor charges in 55 days suggest the 15-year-old may already be lost to the street. And so it is time to get serious with this young man.Unfortunately, when I look at his booking photographs, he is still smiling. His grin seems to be getting bigger with each arrest, suggesting that it's all just a game to him.

William Proffitt, St. Petersburg police spokesman

[Last modified February 16, 2008, 23:46:47]


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