Escalating violence among children and teenagers, along with a general uptick in juvenile crime, is gripping the Twin Cities as well as communities across the United States.
Recent incidents of shootings, armed robberies, assaults and carjackings involving young offenders have raised concerns about public safety and the well-being of the youths involved.
Experts and officials point to organized crime influences and conflicts originating on social media platforms such as TikTok as key factors contributing to the surge in juvenile crime.
David Thomas, a forensic studies professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, described the severity of the situation in Minnesota. “What’s happening there is happening all around the country. The crimes have become more violent over time.”
In a recent incident, a 13-year-old allegedly behind the wheel of a stolen Kia led law enforcement on a high-speed pursuit near Olson Memorial Highway.
The chase ended in a violent crash that injured a man inside a bus shelter, along with five other teens also present in the stolen vehicle.
According to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, the 13-year-old driver now faces six felony charges, including four counts of criminal vehicular operation, one count of fleeing a police office and one count of receiving stolen property.
No additional information about potential charges for the other five juveniles has been released due to their age, but it is known that four have been hospitalized and two have been taken into custody after the incident.
Law enforcement officials suspect the stolen Kia to be connected to a string of armed robberies, attempted robberies and carjackings, which triggered the pursuit.
The rise in young people engaging in violent crimes has prompted demands for nationwide restructuring of the juvenile justice system. Experts argue for a balanced approach that combines prevention and intervention programs with appropriate accountability measures.
For example, Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt advocated for a comprehensive strategy that addresses the root causes of juvenile delinquency while ensuring consequences for criminal behavior.
“I believe in prevention, I do believe in intervention programs but we also have to acknowledge that once that threshold is crossed, there needs to be accountability,” Witt stated.
Professor David Thomas also highlighted the need for effective rehab programs. “There have to be stem programs, there has to be education that actually shows them, not just shows them, that ties them into something beyond, this doesn’t mean anything to me,” he said. “Teaching kids how to make good decisions, showing them how their schoolwork translates into real work.”
Additionally, Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty and other leaders emphasized the need to establish more rehabilitation facilities within Minnesota.
Moriarty has faced criticism for her office’s perceived soft approach toward juvenile offenders. In response, she vowed to expedite the charging process and ensure timely intervention and resources for arrested teens.
Moriarty also urged lawmakers to allocate more funding for youth detention and rehabilitation facilities, of which there are currently only nine in the city.
“We are working very hard to try to get youth the services that they need,” she explained. “We’re trying to make sure that we are getting our systems to communicate, and we are working very hard to get violence prevention in place for the coming summer.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara also echoed the community’s concerns about the lack of accountability for juvenile offenders, calling for appropriate facilities and support systems to be put in place.
O’Hara cited incidents where arrested youths were released without significant consequences, leading to repeated offenses.
“We take them into custody, they’re not being booked, they’re being immediately released,” O’Hara told residents during a community meeting to address a recent crime spree that occurred in South Minneapolis. “If they’re the driver, oftentimes they’re given a monitoring device that we have seen several times that the kids then cut off and then continue to engage in the behavior. So without having any method of holding kids accountable, without having any support.”
O’Hara further stated that vehicle thefts have risen by 95% in the city.
“We’re getting sometimes as many Kias and Hyundais stolen in a week as what used to happen in an entire year,” he continued. “A small group of kids over and over, and not having the ability to send them some places where they can actually get accountability, they can actually get service.”
Efforts are currently underway to enhance collaboration and communication among law enforcement agencies, child protection services and youth prosecution teams. The aim, officials say, is to ensure effective intervention and support for troubled youth from various angles, breaking down the silos that hinder the delivery of comprehensive care.
As communities grapple with the alarming rise in juvenile crime, Moriarty and law enforcement agencies continue to work toward solutions to address the complex issue.
“We think it’s important that we show the community, that we in the system are collaborating and working together,” Moriarty said. “One of our goals is to try to intervene early before the activity escalates to the point where it’s more difficult to rehabilitate.”
However, Moriarty expressed that law enforcement need more tools to prosecute teens at the same time, and spoke with O’Hara about potential strategies and solutions.
“I hear the term ‘catch-and-release’ all the time. And I think it’s important for our community, for everybody, to understand how the system works. Ultimately, law enforcement has to send us a case to be charged. If they don’t, that person’s just legally released,” Moriarty said. “We are being proactive and trying to work with law enforcement and make sure they understand, ‘hey, if you think a kid is not safe in the community, even though normally the juvenile detention center wouldn’t keep that kid ask for an override we will help you with that.’”