Auto theft a persistent problem in Palm Beach County

FDLE reports drop in other serious crimes

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - State officials say Florida's crime rate has dipped to a 43 year low. Even with those new and improved statistics released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, one of the biggest targets of a thief is your car.

Auto theft in Palm Beach County is not getting better, according the new FDLE report. The incidents can happen in an instant - and they do. "This was all ripped out. Everything was on the ground," said Chris Leighton, speaking about his 1997 Jeep Cherokee. The vehicle was recently stolen from a Palm Beach Gardens parking lot.

"When I walked out around two to put my phone on my car charger, I couldn't find my car," said Leighton.

Newly released statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show while other crimes - murders, rapes and robberies are down - thieves are going after vehicles in increasing numbers in some places. More than one hundred more people in Palm Beach County were victimized year-to-year in 2013.

"Crimes such as auto theft in south Florida has always been problematic," said former Boca Raton Police Chief.

Andrew Scott points out reasons for that jump. He says Palm Beach County's close proximity to ports is a big draw for thieves. He also believes that vehicles are easy targets - even with an alarm. Scott said that the penalties for auto theft rarely include jail time - and criminals know it.

"It really isn't prosecuted to the extent that it should be," he said. "Therefore, those that are arrested for auto theft usually get off with a very minor fine, " said Scott.

Overall, Palm Beach County crime rate dropped about 3 percent in 2013 according to FDLE. When it comes to auto theft in particular, authorities say simple steps like always locking up and hiding valuables really does make a difference.

Crime is falling on the Treasure Coast according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Indian River County led the way with an overall drop of more than 19 percent last year.

In St. Lucie County, the number of crimes in seven categories, including murder and burglary, dropped 5.1 percent last year.

In Martin County, the decrease was 2.2 percent. In Okeechobee County, statistics show 2.8 percent decrease.

State officials consider seven major crimes: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.

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