Spike in juvenile crimes has Washington lawmakers taking note


Two police chases in Western Washington involving teens in stolen cars, too young to even have a license.

The spike in juvenile crimes is hitting Pierce County particularly hard.

“What I normally see in the recent year-and-a half is that our biggest crimes that we’re having are being committed by younger and younger people,” said Sgt. Darren Moss with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. “Violent crime has increased across the entire state, but specifically in our region, a lot of our shootings are victims who are 13, 15-year-old kids, 19 year-old-kids,” Moss said.

Multiple teens have been killed in Tacoma over the past six months. A 16-year-old boy was shot and died in January. That same month, a 14-year-old boy was also killed in gun violence. A 14-year-old girl was shot and killed in July of 2022.

The region has also seen more reports of carjackings and stolen cars involving teens – many too young to even have a license.

“That’s a trend we’re seeing now,” Moss said.

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Just this week, Pierce County deputies chased three teens after seeing a driver suspected of DUI on Sunday. That gave them grounds to pursue. Moss said the suspect’s car topped 100 mph.

Ultimately, three teens were booked: a 15-year-old driver and two 14-year-old passengers. The car was stolen.

On Wednesday in Seattle, police dealt with something similar something similar – three teens in a car that had been previously stolen at gunpoint during a carjacking. It led to a police chase.

The teens inside were 15, 14, and 13 years old.

Data from the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office shows in January of 2023, they handled 53 juvenile cases.

That’s compared to 34 cases in January of last year, an increase of 56%.

“I’ve grown up here my whole life and when I was a kid this stuff wasn’t happening. And that wasn’t that long ago. It just breaks my heart,” said Arriana Hilton, a Pierce County native. “It’s way too violent. It didn’t used to be like this.”

Washington state lawmakers are taking notice. Sen. Yasmin Trudeau is vice chair of the Law and Justice Committee and represents district 27, covering Tacoma. She is hoping to create a task force this legislative session to look at how to prevent kids from getting into trouble, but also find the right balance between holding them accountable, and not creating further harm to kids down the line.

“If we are not able to help them and divert them from that path, I think that we’re looking at a much greater sense of heartache as they continue to grow and stay in the system,” Trudeau said.

“I think we should be responding more with the science that we have – given this problem that’s continuing to increase – because we’re just going to create more adults that we can’t reach if we don’t start doing something soon,” she said.

It’s not clear yet what kind of laws the potential task force could come up with for the 2024 session, but Trudeau hopes the brain science that shows when kids’ minds start to develop more fully will be factored in.


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