CLEVELAND — As crimes continue to rise in Cleveland, police are worried about the decrease in suspects' age. More often now, teens are being booked for crimes that range from carjackings to murders, but one group is trying to stop that.
“Voiceless. voiceless, hurting, lost,” said Angela Bennett with the Cleveland Police Foundation when describing troubled youth in Cleveland. “Our kids don't need incarceration, they need healing, and they need an opportunity.”
Across Cleveland, law enforcement has seen a surge in crime and a change in the suspects.
“What we're seeing is, it's the ages coming down to those kids who are getting involved in things like gangs. We're starting to see recruitment as young as 13 and 14,” said Rick Dechant with the Cleveland Police Foundation.
Just this week, a 14-year-old was arrested in connection to a carjacking, and an 18-year-old was arrested for murder in the New Year’s Eve shooting of a Cleveland police officer.
The Cuyahoga County prosecutor says carjackings have increased 22% in 2021 and put part of the blame on the gangs.
“So what you see is some of the crime is almost forms of initiation — ‘If you want to become part of our gang, you need to carjack a car, or you need to, you know, hold up a 7-11 store or whatever,’” said Dechant.
Experts say the issue is multifaceted, and the factors include the effects of the pandemic, home issues and distrust in law enforcement.
“We want to address youth violence. We need to make sure that we have a village with support for our kids so that we can prevent them from going into these paths. And even if they do, how do we then help redirect?” said Bennett.
In order to bridge the gap and address problems at the root, the Cleveland Police Foundation began programs where kids can get to know some of the people in uniform.
“Yeah, they may wear a blue suit, but they're, they're human just like me,” said Dechant.
Officers in the program also hold conversations for change that kids can relate to, like the three-team alliance including the Cavs, Browns and Guardians.
“So we're constantly engaging in hearing students’ voices, allowing their voices to be heard and empowering them to really be that driver of change,” said Bennett.
While they are working on the youth, the officers are also working on how they can change their approach.
“It’s a time of transition within the Cleveland Division of Police. They know these issues need to be looked at, addressed, and I’m proud to say that they are,” said Dechant.
Through these programs they have helped 50 to 100 kids per year, reminding everyone that kids are people too.
“Every child deserves a champion. And our children deserve to have a community that embraces them, that cares about them and that is willing to invest in them,” said Bennett.
Sometimes they just need some extra love.
The Cleveland Police Foundation is always looking for help and collaborations. If you'd like to be a part or are looking for more information, click here.
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