Sometimes it takes a heinous act to elicit significant change — for example, the death of a promising Nashville musician last Thursday.
After five children (one as young as 12 years old) were charged with murder, there was an immediate call for action around the city.
Franklin Police hosted a summit with police chiefs, sheriffs and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on Monday. They met to exchange information and ideas to halt this wave of violent youth crime.
Hendersonville Police Chief Mickey Miller was one of the law enforcement leaders that attended the meeting of minds.
“I don’t think I have ever seen it this bad,” said Chief Miller, who has worked in law enforcement for 41 years. Most of that time spent working as a Metro cop. “It’s an increase in not having respect for anyone’s property or lives.”
Miller, who came to Hendersonville eight years ago, still has the same, simple philosophy: Protect the citizens.
“I know there’s a lot of sentiment that says, ‘we need to fix these kids.’ Well, my job is to protect the innocent people of Hendersonville — and I know the other chief’s feel the same way,” Miller said. “They want to protect the innocent person from being preyed upon by these thugs, and that is what they are, thugs.”
A few years ago, Miller told News 2, he began to notice a difference in juvenile offenders coming through his office. In his opinion, the kids were getting younger, meaner, and quicker to hurt someone.
For example, Miller said, was a recent crime his officers worked.
“[The victim] gave them everything — his car keys, his wallet — and they got him on the ground and started kicking him,” Miller recalled. “I mean, they are cruel, mean thugs, and we need to put them away.”\
Miller said it is the same kids committing the same crimes over and over. He also said gangs are involved.
According to Chief Miller, Kids will literally look at Google Earth and say, ‘that is the neighborhood we are targeting tonight.’
“This is a major problem — it is gang-related, [and] it is gang activity, ” he explains. “‘We want to steal cars and guns, and run from the police.'”
And just when police what to get tougher on youth offenders — there is legislation scheduled to go into effect in a few months that, some believe, might prevent police from keeping us safe.
The Youth Offender Reform Act will go into effect on July 1.
According to Miller, the law limits the way officers can interact with youth offenders.
“If this goes into effect — any time we stop these kids after a property crime, they won’t be put in jail,” Miller said. “so they’ll be put back on the street doing the same thing over and over again.”
Hendersonville Police spend much of their time investigating and pursuing dangerous, violent juveniles.
“Juveniles won’t necessarily be detained — they could be released following booking to go to rehab classes,” Miller clarified. “And in 41 years, I’ve never seen that work, and don’t believe it will work now, and I’m sure most of the chiefs feel the same way. […] They’ve lost their right to freedom when they began doing the things they are doing, and they need to be put away for one purpose — and that’s to protect innocent people.”
Hendersonville and Metro are not the only police departments concerned by the rise in juvenile crime.
Gallatin Police Chief Donald Brandy released the following statement to News 2:
“The Gallatin Police Department is seeing an increase in juvenile-related crime. The crimes being committed are more violent in nature, committed by a group of juveniles who are younger in age than we have seen in the past. Crimes are not random. We have seen an increase in juveniles targeting victims for robberies, carjacking and vehicle burglaries. We feel that all crimes, even if property crimes, have the potential to lead to more serious violent crime. We support any effort to deter these young juveniles from making poor decisions and send the message that these are serious offenses that have life-changing consequences.”
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