Brazen criminals appear to be getting younger and younger

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by Maggie Crane / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on November 16, 2012 at 10:12 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 16 at 11:05 PM

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Just this week, News 4 has told you about several violent crimes, including armed carjackings and a murder. In each case, the suspects are teenagers, some as young as 14.
 
"It used to be shoplifting, and now it's guns and robberies and some of the more serious crimes," St. Louis Metropolitan Police Captain Dan Howard said.

It's a pattern that has police and community leaders shaking their heads and calling for action.
 
Juvenile crime has become such a problem, St. Louis Metropolitan Police just received new grant money to tackle it to try to reach kids before they turn to violence.
 
A 14-year-old was killed this week when he crashed the car police say he carjacked from a woman at gunpoint.
 
In the Metro East four young teens were arrested.  Three had tears in their eyes in their mug shots after they were charged as adults for robbing and killing a man.
 
Nicole Daniels has lived in fear since a teenager carjacked her in front of her own home.
 
"He looked young, but the gun itself terrified me," Daniels said.
 
Police caught four teens riding in her SUV.
 
"It's unbelievable," Daniels said.  "I remember you all used to have a thing on the news, 'it's 10 o'clock, you know where your kids are at.'  That's what the parents need to start asking.  Where's my child at?  At 15, where are they at?  The street lights are on.  We used to have to be in when the street lights came on.  I don't know what happened."
 
It's a startling pattern of bold criminals turning up younger and younger.
 
"Many of them are not bad kids. They're looking for something to do, and they view driving around in a car as fun," James Clark or Better Family Life said.  "A gun is just a way to extract something that they want, and so it's not about 'I'm Jesse James;' I'm a kid that wants to have some fun and I can use this gun to get someone's car."
 
Older criminals also have been known to recruit kids, tempting them with new shoes or jewelry, knowing that if they get caught young teens won't face the same kind of consequences in juvenile court as adults face.
          
"Not only is it a totally different system, but once a juvenile perpetrator becomes an adult at 17, they can get a clean bill of health, so in that world, there are certain benefits to reaching out to the younger offenders," Capt. Howard said.
 
"Too often it can result in the loss of life or loss of their freedom, so parents, let this be a wakeup call," Clark said.  "You've got to be involved."
 
City police are also doing their part to be involved.  Officers run the Police Athletic League, coaching city sports teams to build better relationships with young people.
 
"We can build relationships with youth so they think 'hey the police aren't bad guys,'" Capt. Howard said.  "A lot of times the only time they see us is at a scene of a bad incident or locking somebody up in their family.  It's kind of neat to be able to coach them, to teach them a sport, and the Police Athletic League pays for it."
 
James Clark echoes that sentiment.  He says kids need recreation.  Parents can also turn to Better Family Life, The Urban League, 100 Black Men, St. Louis Parks and Recreation, and Youth in Need for help keeping kids engaged in positive recreation.

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