5 INVESTIGATIONS: No easy answers, solutions for a record outbreak of violent car hijackings

He is now among at least five teens linked to violent carjackings and receiving the kind of severe punishment normally reserved for adults, but amid an unprecedented wave of crime, a growing number of people in the Twin Cities and the surrounding suburbs say it takes even more Done.

There have been more than 600 carjackings in Minneapolis alone this year – only a fraction of those responsible have been identified, arrested and charged.

Victims, lawyers, prosecutors and others working in the juvenile justice system tell 5 SURVEY there is no easy solution to violence, but the pressure to find answers has never been greater .

Public safety vs rehabilitation

Tom Arneson felt the intensity of that pressure during a public safety meeting in Edina last week. The attorney general for the Hennepin County District Attorney’s Juvenile Prosecutions Division was in attendance as crowds, including victims of recent carjackings and a home invasion, demanded action.

Arneson says tackling the increase in this type of violent crime is now his office’s top priority.

More than 68% of carjacking cases in Hennepin County so far this year involve juvenile offenders.

“We take these cases seriously, we are prosecuting them,” Arneson said. “We have seen car thieves as young as 12 … The goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate children.”

The vast majority of the 100 carjacking cases sent to Arneson Division this year have remained in juvenile court where all proceedings and results are kept private from the public. But at least five recent cases involving teenage suspects, including Hawkins, were so violent that prosecutors convinced the court they should be tried like adults.

Investigators said Hawkins and another suspect used a handgun and hammer to rob a victim whose car was stuck in the snow on 35th Avenue South in Minneapolis in January.

Hawkins refused to stop and speak with 5 INVESTIGATIONS before his sentencing hearing, but inside the courtroom, his defense attorney argued that the victim had never identified positively the 17-year-old and said Hawkins had already lived a “life of trauma” as a child.

Prosecutors told the judge sending a minor to jail was “the state’s last option,” but noted Hawkins was already on probation for a previous robbery.

“There are public safety risks that cannot be managed otherwise,” said Adam Tomczik, deputy county prosecutor.

Hawkins’ five-year prison sentence is similar to that handed down in other cases reviewed by 5 INVESTIGATIONS involving young carjacking suspects who have been tried as adults.

A minor’s level of violence and criminal history are key factors in deciding who to charge as an adult, according to Arneson.

“It’s not a simple problem and there is no simple answer,” Arneson said. “Lawsuits are one piece. It’s a very important piece, but we have to do prevention.”

“Credible messengers”

Catherine “CJ” Johnson, director of the Hennepin County Community Corrections and Rehabilitation Department, said her office and others were looking for “loopholes” in the system that prevent low-level juvenile offenders from moving on to higher education. more serious crimes.

“The old-fashioned answer of ‘lock them and throw the key away’ doesn’t work because you’re not actually throwing the key away,” Johnson said. “No matter how long we lock up these minors, they come out and I don’t want them to be worse off when they do.”

Hennepin County recently enlisted the help of two community groups to work as “believable messengers” – an effort to connect and mentor young people already involved in juvenile probation.

The county signed agreements in August with A Mother’s Love Initiative and We Push for Peace. Contracts could pay each group up to $ 350,000 or more to raise awareness until next year.

“Some of these children are already engaged in these spaces and do not know a way out. So how can we help them find this way out?” Johnson said. “For young people who are involved in group violence, we often find that the people they will listen to are those who have already stepped out of that space.”

One of those people is Trahern Pollard, the founder and CEO of We Push for Peace.

“A lot of these young men and women are in that revolving door. When they come out – although there are services available to them – there is no one guiding and mentoring them to those services,” Pollard said. .

When his group receives a referral from juvenile probation, Pollard says the youngster will receive a mental health assessment as well as individual counseling.

“You can’t really help a kid unless you know what you’re helping them in,” Pollard said. “And once we’ve done that, we’ve put them through the preparation program and all of our partnerships… Now we show up to their jobs. We’re going to have lunch with them. We basically become big brothers, in most of them. cases, the fathers of some of these young men. “

For those like Arneson and Johnson, balancing the need for consequences with the diversion is essential to having a lasting impact on the problem.

“It’s not just about short-term gains, if we lock someone up for two weeks that person doesn’t commit a crime for those two weeks, but what do we do when they come out?” Johnson said.

“A crossroads moment”

Melanie McCall is among those who hope for a lasting solution while securing justice for the victims.

McCall had just returned to her garage in Minneapolis earlier this month when she said two unknown men stole her at gunpoint.

“They were both shaking. Even the guy with the gun,” McCall said. “And that’s when it hit me – these guys are young.”

McCall was not physically injured, but the two young men fled with her car and her husband’s vehicle.

She says she believes the city is at a “crossroads time” as she grapples with how to tackle the increase in violent crime with record numbers of police officers.

“I don’t want to relive this anymore. I don’t want anyone I know, or don’t know, to relive this,” McCall said. “We have to find a way to stop it.”

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