ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Car thefts were up more than 33% nationwide in the first half of 2023, according to the Council on Criminal Justice's mid-year report. No Tampa Bay cities were included in the report, but St. Petersburg Police officials said it's a challenge also facing their officers.
“Our biggest number in property crime is still the numbers of auto thefts,” Police Chief Anthony Holloway told city council members Thursday during his quarterly report.
Holloway said car thefts are up 37% this year, and 90% of those responsible are juveniles.
“The officers are doing a great job. They’re making those arrests. Once these young men either get off their 21-day hold or they’re sent back home, we see where they’re out, still stealing cars again,” Holloway said.
According to numbers in the chief’s presentation to the council, there were 252 reported motor vehicle thefts in April, May and June of this year. That’s up from 190 during the same time last year.
“It’s almost like an epidemic to where Kias and Hyundais are being stolen,” Asst. Chief Michael Kovacsev said.
Kovacsev said cars from those manufacturers made up more than 33% of thefts last quarter, but they’re not the only cars being taken.
“I was shocked,” Hermon Thomas said of the moment he realized his Toyota Tundra was stolen out of his driveway.
A spokesperson for St. Pete Police said Thomas’s truck was stolen on August 10. He said he was taking out the garbage in the morning when he noticed it was gone.
“I thought I was at the wrong address,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he doesn’t know how the thief or thieves did it. He said the truck was locked and keys were not left outside.
“I was like, ‘I hope they didn’t wreck it, because that would suck,’” said Thomas.
He said police were able to recover the car the same day in the area of Auburn Street and 18th Avenue South.
“She called me, like, 2 o’clock,” Thomas said of the officer working his case. “She’s like, ‘Can you bring the keys?’”
Thomas said it was parked in a dead-end alley. While he got the car back, he said items were stolen from inside.
“Lock your cars,” Thomas said when asked if he had a message for other car owners. “If you got any valuables, don’t leave them in your car because they’ll probably get stolen. They take that stuff and that’s what upsets me the most.”
A police spokesperson said no arrests have been made in Thomas’s case, and a report was not available because it’s not public record due to the open investigation.
According to Chief Holloway’s report to the council, officers made 97 car theft arrests in the second quarter of this year.
A police spokesperson previously said car owners can help deter thefts by locking doors, not leaving valuables in the car or in plain sight, and being aware of surroundings.