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Gone in 60 seconds? Try 30, car theft detectives say

When school lets out, car thefts always increase, experts say. But this summer, detectives also must contend with Hollywood.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


NORTH TAMPA -- All it takes is the start of summer to see not only the temperature but the crime statistics climb, investigators say.

"Kids are bored," said Hillsborough sheriff's Sgt. Skip James. "Plus, they don't have to go home and go to bed."

The result is a crime rate that climbs during the summer, especially auto thefts and burglaries. The last thing kids need, detectives say, is any encouragement from Hollywood.

"We're dreading that movie," James said. "It'll go wild."

James was referring to Gone in 60 Seconds, the latest summer smash-em-up car chase film, which opened in theaters Friday.

The film, starring Nicolas Cage, centers on a gang of car thieves that includes the suave Cage and a bevy of sophisticated cohorts.

With Angelina Jolie as Cage's sexy auto theft accomplice, investigators are afraid the movie will make stealing cars look not only easy but, well, cool.

"You just wait," said sheriff's Detective Mike Smoak, who investigates auto thefts out of the District III Sheriff's Office in Citrus Park.

"Kids will see that movie and get lots of ideas."

District III has seen a steady climb in auto burglaries since the start of the year, said James, who foresees an even greater spike as summer unfolds.

"We were up 44 percent the first four months as compared to last year," James said, "and it's stayed that way."

At the sheriff's District I station near the University of South Florida, Sgt. Fred Asteasuainzarra said that while crime statistics have not jumped radically, deputies have already seen an increase in auto thefts and burglaries in the past few weeks.

"I wish they had school year round," said Asteasuainzarra, who attributes the surge to kids. As for Gone in 60 Seconds, he said, "We've heard the hype, that it will show kids how to steal cars. Some movies just glorify these things."

In District III, James said one factor that adds to the auto theft rate is the increasing mobility of teenagers.

"We're finding people from other counties -- Polk, Hernando, Pasco -- that are coming into Hillsborough County, doing their dirty deeds and leaving."

And proof is hard to come by, he said. "Fingerprints don't help, unless the suspect has priors."

Also, he said, the reality is that unless the crime involves a homicide, a crime lab will not spend weeks combing a car for fingerprints.

The solution, James said, is prevention.

"We need more deputies on the street, but I doubt the County Commission will do it," he said. "The only way to catch a car thief is in the act. And it takes 30 seconds, not 60."

-- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3474 or herdy@sptimes.com.

Theft prevention tips

When parking your vehicle and exiting:

Turn off the ignition and take the keys with you.

Park in a well-lit, attended lot or area if possible.

If lot or area is attended, leave attendant only the ignition/door key.

Do not leave valuables in open view.

Be cautious of surrounding obstructions and natural barriers that may be concealing a thief.

When at home

If you have a garage, use it and lock it.

If you have a rear-wheel drive car, back into driveway.

If you have a front-wheel drive car, park front end first.

Always set the emergency brake.

Don't leave the registration or title in the vehicle.

For a list of vehicle protection devices, see page 10

Vehicle protection

Ignition kill switch: toggle switch spliced into ignition that disables vehicle when off.

Fuel kill switch: switch spliced into fuel system wiring that halts fuel supply when off.

Steering wheel lock: prevents steering wheel from turning.

Gearshift lock: locks gearshift in place; disables shifting transmission.

Tire/wheel lock: tool wraps around tire/wheel, immobilizes vehicle.

Hood lock: prevents access to battery and other car components.

Steering column collar: protects entry to ignition through column.

Electronic alarms: ones with kill switches are most effective.

Vehicle tracking systems: Transmitter in car enables police to track car electronically.

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