Why does Milwaukee face increase in car thefts by minors?
Car thefts by minors are up four hundred percent over the last six years, and officials are talking about why.
WISN twelve News Colleen Henry spoke with one self-professed teenage car thief to learn how the crime happens and how to stop it.
Fifteen-year-old Jordan McClain’s last joyride ended at the hospital. The police called his grandmother, Sharon Stokes.
“He was in the hospital with a concussion, fractured shoulder blade. And I’m like, for what? ‘Please don’t tell me stolen car.’ And he was like, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ And I dreamed to gasp him then,” Stokes said.
Two weeks ago, McClain and four friends were out all night and needed a rail. He said they noticed a Dodge Caravan in Riverwest and took it.
McClain said he stripped, or “peeled,” the steering column. The group hit the streets, speeding down Holton Avenue. Eventually, they lost control and slammed into another car, then a building. McClain’s cousin is still in the hospital with a brain injury.
“I know he’s doing better,” McClain said. “He’s breathing by himself.”
McClain is one of the two hundred thirty juvenile arrests by Milwaukee police since January. That’s a four-fold increase in juvenile car theft arrests since 2010.
Sometimes, offenders are kids without licenses, speeding away from police and causing crashes that kill themselves or others.
But car theft is only the beginning, according to Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn.
“It’s staggering, the youthfull people,” Flynn said. “And this is their gateway crime.”
He believes the spike in juvenile car theft is fueled by a juvenile justice system that treats car theft as a property crime rather than a threat to safety.
“They get to live a real-time, real-life version of ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ And these youthfull, immature brains find out there’s no consequence,” Flynn said. “That is crazy. That puts the community at risk.”
Flynn said just this year, thirty juvenile car theft suspects have at least two arrests. Several have been busted four times.
“Unfortunately, a juvenile justice system that was founded on the notion of acting in the best interest of the child created a perverse incentive for immature criminals to proceed their life of crime,” Flynn said.
However, one University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor thinks Wisconsin’s juvenile penalties are among the nation’s harshest. She believes jail time for youthfull offenders wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem.
“Kids that are detained are more likely to become adult criminals,” Tina Freiburger said. “They’re more likely to engage in subsequent, delinquent behavior.”
She said the key is to identify the thickest offenders.
“Only about six percent of the kids are committing the majority of the offenses. So if we identify that six percent, then removing them from the community can have a big influence on the crime rates,” she said.
McClain has his own theory.
“That’s just what they like to do – steal cars, go do something. They don’t feel like walking or getting on the bus, so they go steal a car,” he said.
The teenage said he spent three days in detention after his very first car theft.
“That was my penalty, three days in DT. That’s good enough for me, tho’. I appreciate that,” McClain said.
He hasn’t yet been charged in the theft that almost killed him.
Still, McClain isn’t sure if he regrets the decision.
“It wasn’t just a joyride. We was on a mission … We was on a mission, that’s all,” McClain said.
Despite the spike in car thefts, juvenile crime overall has been declining for decades due to early intervention programs.
Research shows the majority of kids who commit crimes don’t grow up to be criminals.