Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves (right), standing beside Fulton county police chief Gary Stiles at a press conference, announced proposals to help reduce crime in south Fulton, where there has been an increase this year in car thefts and items stolen from cars. The ideas include a multi-jurisdictional police team to patrol gas stations and grants for increasing surveillance. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Teenagers, known to police, responsible for many Fulton car thefts

Fewer than two dozen people, most of them juveniles, are responsible for an increase in so-called “slider” crimes — where someone slides into an unlocked car and takes the car, or items in it — Fulton County officials said.

And though police know who they are, and even arrest them, the criminal justice system allows them to quickly bond out or be released to their parents’ custody, Fulton County Police Chief Gary Stiles said. They then commit the crimes again.

“We are arresting them,” Stiles said Friday. “I’ve taken them out, I’ve taken them out, I’ve taken them out, they come back and come back and come back.”

Fulton County Chairman John Eaves said Friday that 22 people, mostly teens between the ages of 15 and 17, account for more than two thirds of the “slider” crimes committed this year, which are up 138 percent over 2015. They appear to drive past gas stations and jump out of their cars to slide in them when they see other unoccupied vehicles, Stiles said.

The problem has drawn particular attention in south Fulton County, where the cars of two prominent figures were stolen from gas stations in December: the actress Queen Latifah and retired judge Marvin Arrington, Sr., whose son is a Fulton County commissioner.

“People are being traumatized and victimized,” Eaves said. “All of us want to make this problem go away.”

Eaves gave information about some possible solutions he plans to propose next week. On Tuesday, he has a meeting with residents, judges, gas station owners and others to discuss ideas that could help reduce crime. Wednesday, the county’s board of commissioners will consider some of the proposals.

Those ideas include the establishment of a “slider” task force that would share intelligence across law enforcement agencies, and more coordination between the district attorney’s office and judges. With increased communication, Eaves said, there is less likelihood that repeat offenders will be released time and again.

“What do we do to address these outliers?” Juvenile Court Judge Willie Lovett, Jr. said. “We don’t just detain children because they commit certain crimes. …There’s a concept of due process. We have to follow the law.”

Eaves also proposed a “red cap squad” that would use officers from several police departments to increase patrols at gas stations and convenience stores.

“We want to show a presence and deter crime,” Eaves said.

He said he is prepared to find money in the county budget to help pay for those proposals, and others.

In addition to Eaves’ ideas, Marvin Arrington Jr. has suggested gas stations and convenience stores could lose their alcohol licenses if they fail to stop crime at their locations. At an earlier board meeting in December, commissioners did not support the idea, though Arrington said he will bring it up again.

The competing proposals led to a heated response from Arrington from the audience at a Friday press conference to announce Eaves’ plans. Arrington asked repeatedly why police were not enforcing the existing alcohol law, which he believes allows officers to suspend alcohol licenses due to crime.

“The way it is, it’s virtually unenforceable,” Stiles said. “Just because a crime is occurring doesn’t mean a business owner is complicit in the crime.”

Eaves briefly acknowledged Arrington’s proposed resolution, and said there are many options to be considered.

“We all want the problem to go away,” Eaves said.

Stiles urged people to lock their cars at gas stations and elsewhere, even if they’re only outside for a minute, saying most people are entering unlocked cars while their drivers are pumping gas or inside paying.

“This is a crime that can be prevented nine times out of 10,” Stiles said.

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