Gang activity may be factor in steep rise in juvenile crime

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis and Shelby County deal with violent crime on an almost-daily basis, but a new trend shows that offenders are starting at a younger age.

Numbers from the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission show that violent crimes by juveniles skyrocketed to 671 this year, a 58% increase over the same period a year ago. And the crimes committed are horrible, serious offenses.

"We’re not just talking juvenile crime. We’re not talking stealing candy bars," Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said. "We’re talking murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping. The worst of the worst.”

Authorities we talked to attribute numerous factors to this sudden increase. One factor can be children growing up in an unstable household, and missing large chunks of school.

"We all know that if kids are in school, good things are happening. They’re learning and less likely to be out causing trouble,” Weirich said.

But a more dangerous variable is gang activity. Some groups are getting children into gangs at an increasingly young age, while other kids create mock-gangs, trying to emulate gang culture.

"If it is two or more of you acting together and terrorizing members of the community, we’re going to prosecute you as if you were a gang,” Weirich said.

Law enforcement wants minors and their families to know that if someone under the age of 18 commits a serious or violent offense, the consequences are severe and the future is bleak.

"You either end up in prison or you end up dead. And neither of those options are any that this office wants to see,” she said.

We reached out to the Shelby County Crime Commission but their president was out of town and unavailable for comment.

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