HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In Hendersonville, there is a saying: commit the crime, do the time, regardless of your age, and the police chief told News 2 it’s worked in reducing juvenile crime in the city.
“They say, ‘Well, when am I going home?’ I told them, I said, ‘You’re not going home. You’re going to jail,'” Chief Mickey Miller said, describing a conversation with a juvenile suspect.
Miller told News 2 juvenile crime skyrocketed three or four years ago as Nashville experienced rapid growth. During that time, the police department sent the young suspects to jail, a punishment Miller said they likely had never experienced before.
“When these juveniles were coming here with stolen cars, stealing cars, robbing people, we were very aggressive toward going after them,” Miller said.
Locking up the juveniles was just the first step.
Miller told News 2 the suspects’ fate then goes into the Sumner County court system’s hands.
However, the courts ran into a roadblock in 2018 when the Juvenile Justice Reform Act passed in Tennessee which put restrictions on judges’ sentencing powers when it came to juveniles.
Miller took his efforts to the state house and lobbied for amendments to that law, which eventually passed and gave judges more discretion on the stand.
Miller told News 2 Sumner County juvenile judges have taken advantage.
“Our court system and our prosecutor’s office have really worked hard in holding these people accountable, and they continue to do that whether it be a juvenile or an adult,” Miller said.
Crimes juveniles used to commit in Hendersonville, including carjackings and robberies, are now being committed by older teens and 20-somethings.
Hendersonville police have faced a different challenge when it comes to juveniles in recent years – children running away from home. Miller told News 2 if the runaways aren’t caught quickly, it often leads to more crimes down the road.
“When they’re out on their own and they have no way of supporting themselves, certainly they’re going to be involved in more criminal activities,” Miller said.
The most concerning crime runaway juveniles have gotten involved with is sex trafficking, according to Miller.
The department has dedicated a lot of manpower in finding these juveniles before they get into trouble. Those who do continue to face harsh punishments, Miller said.
“If there are no consequences for their actions, why would they want to stop? We hope that it will continue to be if they come to Sumner County, or if they start out in Sumner County and they commit a crime, they know there are going to be consequences for your bad actions.”
News 2 looks at the community consequences of the growing number of kids committing crimes and new ideas about solutions with our special reports, Juvenile Crime.