| Argus

Milwaukee in grip of carjacking surge, youths as young as 12 involved

Milwaukee is in the grip of a carjacking surge, with youths as young as 12 involved with gangs stealing vehicles at gunpoint across the city.

In the first five months of this year, there were 198 carjackings in the city, a 120 percent increase from the same period two years ago, figures released recently reveal.

The issue of carjacking was front and center at a meeting Monday of the Milwaukee Common Council’s Public Safety Committee. The spike in carjackings has provoked much debate in the city, and some finger pointing.

Police Chief Edward Flynn, at a press conference last week, described supervision orders placed on juveniles as a “running joke” within his force. Flynn said that in the first five months of 2016, the city has seen an even worse increase in carjacking perpetrated by juveniles: a 767 percent increase in juvenile arrests.

"Everybody we arrest, sometimes it feels like, is already out 'on supervision,' " he said last week. "It's a running joke. Being on county supervision is not being on supervision at all, and the kids know it."

City aldermen met Monday in the wake of the latest incident, when six juveniles, including two aged 12, were arrested on suspicion of carjacking. Four were under supervision orders.

In another incident last week, four of the five juveniles arrested had been released or escaped from supervision for prior armed robberies and car thefts.

Alderman Mark Borkowski, the public safety committee’s vice chair, blamed judges for choosing to hand down more lenient sentences for juvenile carjackers. "We've got way too many marshmallow judges and marshmallow people," he said. "We're held accountable. Why aren't these damn kids being held accountable?"

"Finger-pointing is not the solution," said Hector Colon, who runs Milwaukee County's Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees juvenile justice. "It`s a time for us to really come together, look at the data, all of the partners, which are many, and to come forth with effective interventions that could address the problem," he said.

Since the start of 2015, more than 700 juveniles have been arrested for operating a car without the owner's consent; 130 have been arrested two or more times; 27 have been arrested four or more times. Two juveniles have been arrested six times.

"What we find is the system works well for a large number of low-risk youths but we’re very concerned about what’s happening with the high-risk youth," Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm told the public safety committee meeting.

Mayor Tom Barrett, in a news release last week following the latest carjacking, said: "Offenders who have multiple arrests, violate juvenile supervision standards, are on probation/parole and commit yet another crime must face real consequences.

"This is not happening and that has to change. It's clear, arrests alone, without meaningful sanctions, are not and will not deter juvenile crime."

At the same public safety meeting Monday, Police Chief Flynn was also quizzed on  comments he made last month, in which he laid out rules for not getting shot in Milwaukee. He laid out “four simple rules” - don’t deal drugs, don't be part of a gang, don't illegally carry a gun, and don't get into a fight with someone who has more arrests than you.

At the meeting, Flynn said: "I tried to convey facts in a less dry way to a group of people who should not be afraid of their public spaces,"

"The level of professionalism and empathy expected to be exhibited by those in public service we do not feel were exhibited" here, Alderman Milele Coggs said, according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Professor John Hagerdon, professor of criminal justice at the University of Illinois, Chicago, is a critic of Flynn’s approach to policing, one the academic claims does little to address the underlying hostility and alienation felt by black youth toward the police.

“The alienation portends persistent problems with violence,” Hargerdon said in an email Tuesday. “Flynn’s approach (is) old fashioned zero tolerance, numbers driven by broken windows policing.”

Hagerdon, who has studied  gangs operating in Chicago and Milwaukee, added: “When homicides are up, they blamed the gangs. When they drop, they claim credit for the police. Nothing new.”