A startling trend in violent crimes and carjackings being committed by juveniles has raised the alarm among some officials who say the problem has arisen, in part, out of a lack of supervision for out-of-school kids and a laissez-faire attitude toward offenders during the coronavirus pandemic.
“You know, idle minds are the devil’s playground. And a lot of these kids, they’ve been idle for a year and a half now without going to school. And that’s been a big problem,” Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo told Fox News on Wednesday. Acevedo also serves as president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and was previously chief of the Houston Police Department.
Just Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) announced first-degree murder and armed vehicular hijacking charges against a 16-year-old boy for allegedly killing a man, 53, and committing a string of robberies in February.
And early Thursday, Chicago police said two boys, ages 16 and 17, were arrested. The youngest of the pair was charged with armed aggravated vehicular hijacking, while both were charged with receive/possess/sell of a stolen vehicle.
Late last month, 13-year-old Adam Toledo was fatally shot by Chicago police during an “armed confrontation,” authorities said at the time, though additional details are still being gathered.
Chicago police have been outspoken in their efforts to combat juvenile carjackings, and arrests continue to pour in.
Earlier this year, CPD reported a 180% increase in carjackings in January compared to the same month year-over-year, with officials citing arrest data in showing the offenders were most often between the ages of 15 and 20.
CPD Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan said in January that pandemic-driven changes, such as civil unrest and the lack of fully functioning school and court systems, have contributed to the surge.
“It’s just a game for these kids,” Deenihan wrote in a Police Executive Research Forum publication in February.
He also told The Washington Post that month: “They’re extremely young, terrorizing people, and a lot of them feel, ‘It’s just somebody’s car. It’s no big deal.’”
But Chicago is far from the only city reporting a surge in carjackings committed by juveniles.
Acevedo told Fox News he has spoken to chiefs in big cities across the nation. He stressed that kids have already been targeted by adult criminal enterprises because law enforcement in some jurisdictions goes easy on the kid. Therefore, these criminal organizations, he said, are “utilizing juveniles because they know the juveniles are going to get away with it and they can be right back out to re-offend.”
“On top of that, you add this pandemic where so many more kids across the country, young people, youth, have not been going to school and then parents are either at work — a lot of people still kept working — while these kids aren’t supervised,” Acevedo continued. “So, that part of the increase has been the fact that we’ve had kids that aren’t going to school. There’s no tool in terms of truancy to keep them in school. And, so, guess what they’ve been up to? They’ve been up to no good.”
He also stressed that courts in many parts of the country have been at “a standstill” and lax gun regulations have made it easy for guns to make it “into the wrong hands.”
“And so, consequently, this is what we have, this surge of carjackings and violence and just overall crime committed not just by juvies but also by adults,” Acevedo added.
In Houston, formerly Acevedo’s territory as chief of police, a 16-year-old was arrested in March and charged with capital murder in the shooting and killing Ruben Pineda, 15, local click2Houston.com reported.
Henry Gonzalez, executive director of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD), said Harris County has seen a steady decrease in juvenile referrals over the past three years, attributing its success to the county’s diversion efforts.
Prior to those efforts, approximately 40% of the county’s referrals came from school districts, Gonzalez said. He noted that the decrease seen at least in 2020 is associated with the pandemic and the fact that schools were not as involved in their students’ day-to-day lives.
“To what extent? We don’t know. We know it’s significant,” Gonzalez said.
Diana Quintana, assistant executive director of the HCJPD, said that even prior to COVID-19 the department saw a “significant decrease” in the referrals from school districts, meaning the decrease is not believed to have stemmed from pandemic-related changes alone.
Statistics from big cities such as New York and Philadelphia and other parts of the country show the uptick in juvenile arrests for crimes is not across the board. Rather, arrests for crimes such as carjacking and even more violent crimes have seen increases while others have largely stayed the same or even decreased year-over-year.
In Philadelphia, juvenile carjacking arrests have been up nearly every month since October compared to the same month year-over-year, Philadelphia Police Department statistics show.
Some months, such as December 2020, saw a 450% increase, with 22 compared to the four reported during the same month in 2019. January saw a 333% percent increase year-over-year, according to statistics provided to Fox News. Meanwhile, March saw the same number of juvenile carjacking arrests year-over-year.
Philadelphia also reported six juvenile arrests for murder this March, while none were reported in March 2020, statistics show. However, arrests for aggravated assaults and robberies were largely down or remained stagnant over the course of the past year and a half.
In New York City, month-by-month arrests for juvenile grand larceny auto from March 2019 through March 2021 have been up some months during the pandemic — such as March 2021 with 13 arrests and March 2020 with 24 arrests compared to the three made in 2019, New York Police Department (NYPD) data shows.
But the NYPD had also reported months where juvenile arrests were down for the month compared to the same time before the pandemic. Meanwhile, murders for some months were up slightly, but the increase was not consistent month-to-month.
In the past months, New Orleans has seen a trend in kids committing crimes, including carjacking and even murder, according to FOX 8 WVUE.
And in Washington, D.C., total carjackings for 2020 jumped 143%, up to 345 from the 142 reported in all of 2019, the Metropolitan Police Department previously told Fox News. There were 95 carjackings reported through March 23 — a 352.4% % increase compared to the 21 reported year-over-year, police said.
Concern surrounding teenagers committing such crimes in D.C. came to a head at the end of March when 66-year-old Mohammad Anwar was killed during an attempted carjacking.
The girls, ages 13 and 15, had allegedly tried to steal a car using a stun gun and encountered Anwar, a Pakistani Uber Eats driver, making deliveries at the Navy Yard Metro Station, court records show. Video of the confrontation is graphic and shocking.
Just days later, two boys, ages 13 and 14, were charged with armed carjacking, police said.
San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond, who has been outspoken in his belief of the need to return kids to the classrooms, said there “are many repercussions from not allowing children into school where they need to learn and socialize.”
“We are seeing this directly with severe lockdowns and no in-person learning,” he said in a written statement to Fox News. “Some kids are lashing out and committing crimes.”
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) said in November that juveniles seemed “to be increasingly involved in shootings and other violence, in part because they are not in school, and school resource officers have been reassigned.”
At that time, Minneapolis Police Department Commander Charlie Adams wrote that “80% of our carjackings and robberies are being done by juveniles,” according to PERF.
“We’re catching them and processing them through our Juvenile Division,” he wrote. “But when we take them over to the county to have them detained, the county won’t hold them because of COVID.”
In a February PERF publication, Minneapolis Deputy Chief of Investigations Kathy Waite wrote that the city saw 404 carjackings in 2020 compared to the 101 reported the year prior.
“The vast majority of our carjacking suspects are juveniles. In Minnesota right now, a lot of these kids are not in school, as is the case across the nation,” she said.
PERF has been extensively tracking trends in crime, including those involving juveniles. In one of its most recent publications, released in February, PERF noted that “a small number of suspects are responsible for many of the carjackings.”
“With many courts closed because of the pandemic and authorities reluctant to hold juveniles pending trial, suspects remain on the street and are committing multiple crimes,” it added.
Fox News’ Bradford Betz and Louis Casiano contributed to this report.