Call it grand theft golf cart.
Since January, according to University Police reports, 17 university-owned golf carts have been stolen, including six since May 25. UP spokesperson Mike Klingebiel calls them “crimes of opportunity,” saying that most instances involve young joy riders looking for a quick lift.
“We don’t think this is an organized effort or some sort of plot,” he said. “That’s why there is such a high recovery rate.”
As of June 29, 15 of the 17 carts stolen this year have been recovered.
According to Klingebiel, the locking mechanisms for the ignitions are weaker than those found in motor vehicles, making the carts more susceptible to theft.
“They are easier targets (than motor vehicles) and the individuals who perpetrate don’t feel it’s a crime to steal this property,” Klingebiel said.
Stealing a golf cart is the same as stealing a car and is considered a felony, Klingebiel said. A felony carries fines and imprisonment in excess of one year.
“It’s motor vehicle theft,” Klingebiel said.
Penalties for auto theft vary on a case-by-case basis, which means an offender could be put on probation or be sentenced to more than a year in jail, a Hillsborough County deputy said.
Over the past month, USF’s golf carts have been the target of several theft attempts.
A 2002 white EZ-GO golf cart recovered on June 16 resulted in the arrest of a 14-year-old male. According to the police report, he gave University Police a false name and resisted arrest without violence.
On June 20, two carts were stolen from different locations and later recovered. Another, on June 1, was taken from the Fine Arts building and is still missing.
On May 25, a 1996 blue EZ-GO cart found with dents and scratches on the top level of the Collins Blvd. Parking Garage had a broken steering column and was not driveable. A day earlier, a cart found near Fletcher Avenue. had been driven into a fence.
While most carts are recovered on campus, others have been found elsewhere. For instance, according to Klingebiel, one cart was found near Richlyne St. and Whiteway, roughly two miles from campus. On June 16, a cart stolen from the Education building was found two days later on Yukon St., about 2.5 miles from campus.
Klingebiel said that each department is responsible for its own property and added that UP is starting a cart-marking program.
Usually, according to USF police reports, the carts, which range in value from $500 to $7,000, are found quickly with little or no damage.
“Most of the time we recover them before they are reported stolen,” Klingebiel said.