CrimeTracker Investigation: DA says juvenile crime is 'surging'
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - "It is apparent from all objective standards, juvenile crime is surging in the City of New Orleans," said District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
Cannizzaro says data from the Juvenile Court shows more kids are committing serious crimes.
"At 10 years old, we find that the juveniles will first be brought into the system for purposes of prosecution and we do find unfortunately, many juveniles that come into the system have some pretty serious offenses," he said.
Those offenses sometimes result in felony charges. A felony is a crime that more often involves violence, like armed robberies, murder and rape. According to the court, in 2015, the Orleans D.A.'s office prosecuted 893 juveniles for a crime. That resulted in 195 felony convictions. In 2016, the D.A.'s office prosecuted 755 juveniles, which resulted ion 228 felony convictions. Last year, 929 juveniles ended up in court with 323 felony convictions.
"We're on the pace right now, as it relates to violent crime in 2018, it will exceed the violent crime that we obtained convictions on for the years of 2015 and 2016 combined. That is very disheartening. It's disturbing to us, and I think we all as citizens of New Orleans should be upset by this," Cannizzaro said.
"They didn't know what they were doing, and they took what they wanted as teenage boys," Madison Shumacher said.
Shumacher said she could have lost her life when two teens, one of them only 14, carjacked her in front of Holy Cross School as she waited in the carpool line. She said she remembers the youngest boy had the gun pointed at her as she stepped out of the car.
"He's still yelling curse words, saying, 'You need to move. Do you think I'm playing? You think I won't shoot you?' And that's when he cocked the gun back and put it in my face. That's when reality set in, like this is really happening," Shumacher said.
As the kids pulled away, Shumacher was in front of the vehicle and she ended up on the hood of her car. She eventually fell off and luckily wasn't hurt.
"I'm just bringing awareness to everybody that this is not OK. It's happening and it's real," Shumacher said.
"He looked 12 or 13 years old. He looked really young," said another victim.
The victim, who FOX 8 will not identify, was putting a car seat in her vehicle at 6 a.m. when a juvenile walked up with a gun.
"I was just thinking during the incident, how could you do this? You're just a baby. What could be going on in his life that he's doing this, that he's using a gun to take someone's car?" the victim said.
"So, I think that when we see these individual situations, we should address them as that, and when we're talking about the system as a whole, we need to look at these longer-term trends," said Aaron Clark-Rizzio.
Rizzio is the executive director of the Louisiana Center Children's Rights. It's the public defender's office for Juvenile Court. Rizzio said juvenile crime is down.
FOX 8 obtained police data that dates back to 2008, and over a 10-year period, there is a downward trend of juvenile arrests.
"What we know is that it reflects our system getting smarter, not tougher, in a lot of ways. We have grown in the community-based resources that we have. We've increased the use for appropriate supports and systems for kids. We've also stopped making needless arrests," Rizzio said.
The NOPD arrest data shows over a 10-year period, almost 300 10-year-old's were arrested for various crimes. Police arrest 16-year-old's the most.
"It's not surprising that arrests are going to climb for 15- and 16-year-old's. That's common. Also, young kids are often given other opportunities to resolve conflicts, and their behavior is often addressed in different ways," Rizzio said.
"Many of the juveniles that we see in our system are coming back as repeat offenders, and they're coming back as violent repeat offenders," Cannizzaro said.
Cannizzaro said there often aren't enough consequences for repeat juvenile offenders.
"Unfortunately, there is not. A judge has the right in Juvenile Court to hold a juvenile offender until his or her 21st birthday if they are involved in a crime of violence. We are not seeing that happen," Cannizzaro said.
"What we know is that being more punitive does not make us safer. It doesn't set actual children up to succeed and re-enter into our community. It doesn't decrease the amount of crimes being committed," Rizzio said.
Rizzio said locking up a child up for juvenile life will only increase the chance of that same juvenile committing more crimes and eventually entering the adult system. Instead, he said the juveniles should be given a chance to be rehabilitated.
"We have seen cases where juveniles were involved in multiple armed robbery charges, and they'll be given a year with credit for time served. So based upon the time they've already been in, they'll serve a matter of months," Cannizzaro said.
Earlier this year, a 15-year-old convicted of five armed robberies and one attempted armed robbery was sentenced to one year in a juvenile facility with credit for time served. One of the teens victims included K.C. O'Rorke, the lead singer and trumpet player for the popular band Flow Tribe.
"They rolled up on us and came through the driver's-side door. He jumped in my car, then pulled guns on us. I gave them anything they wanted, the keys, our wallets, everything," O'Rorke said.
"The judge, in my opinion, is sort of the last stop to prevent the juvenile from coming back into the system," Cannizzaro said.
Cannizzaro believes when a juvenile first comes into the system, a judge should make sure they're getting the help they need to change.
"If the judge does not have consequences when the juvenile fails to abide by the condition of a sentence, then there should be a punishment. There should be a punishment that is stern, and it should essentially let the juvenile understand you are going to do the things that you have to do, or you are going to lose your freedom if you do not," Cannizzaro said.
"I think that this system right now is providing plenty of consequences. Simply the arrest is enough for most 10-year-old's. I don't think we need more punitive responses because they don't work and they're counterproductive," Rizzio said.
He believes community-based services can make the biggest difference for a juvenile offender. While LCCR and the district attorney disagree about the consequences juvenile offenders face, one victim sums up the struggle to find a solution.
"I think that just putting it out there and letting people know that this is real and it's happening. It's not something that we can brush off and say, 'Oh well, it's New Orleans and it happens. It's not something that we should be OK with," Shumacher said.
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