BALTIMORE (WBFF) — A Baltimore County car theft spree highlights how the hands of police are tied by current law in curbing the growing juvenile crime problem. In documents obtained exclusively by FOX45 News, reports show one 11-year-old could be responsible for more than a dozen car thefts and other crimes in Baltimore County, but he never enters the juvenile justice system.
In one report, an officer identified an 11-year-old car theft suspect who allegedly stole a Kia by damaging the car ignition using a USB device, a trend that has appeared in car thefts across the country recently. The officer noted the 11-year-old and “several other known juvenile suspects” are responsible for several vehicle thefts in the Essex, Dundalk, and Baltimore City areas.
Despite knowing about their alleged involvement in these crimes, the officer wrote the 11-year-old could not be charged “due to Maryland law” and was released to their mother. But according to a separate police report, the 11-year-old in question was a suspect in at least 17 previous car thefts, burglaries, robberies, and related offenses.
In another police report, a Baltimore County officer responded to a reported car break-in in Essex in early July. Several days later, it was revealed via surveillance footage that three juveniles were responsible for the break-in. Despite recognizing all three juveniles in the surveillance footage, including the 11-year-old car theft suspect from “previous police contact,” the officer was unable to interview any of the suspects due to state law.
“No interviews can be completed due to MD juvenile law,” the officer wrote in the report.
The batch of reports obtained by FOX45 News includes a long list of additional juvenile suspects with significant rap sheets. The reports detail at least four other juveniles suspected of five or more crimes each this year, primarily related to motor vehicle theft.
“[Detective] is unable to interview [suspect] about his involvement in this crime as he is under age 18,” one report reads.
Baltimore County Police say in the reports that juvenile car thefts often occur overnight, enabling suspects to drive vehicles for “several hours” before they are reported stolen. Many of the repeat offenders have become known to officers on the auto theft detail, the report adds.
The discovery of these reports comes as Maryland faces an overall spike in crimes committed by juveniles and demands to reverse juvenile justice laws passed by the Maryland General Assembly that limit what police officers and prosecutors can do.
(The young offenders) know that nothing’s going to happen to them if they keep their crime in a certain limit of types of crime,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger previously told Fox45 News.
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates echoed Shellenberger’s concerns about the current laws. During an interview with FOX45 News on Aug. 24, Bates said he’s frustrated with the juvenile laws and said the situation involving the 11-year-old who was arrested multiple times – and released to family without charges – highlights the concern from many law enforcement agencies.
“It’s very frustrating. You have officers doing their job, risking their life. You have victims who struggle to make the car payments, struggle to pay the insurance, doing what they can, and here comes a young kid, a child, stealing their car because they think it’s a game,” Bates said. “Our problem is the system, and the laws just aren’t working.”
“There’s nothing the law will allow us to do to hold them accountable,” Bates added. “They are doing whatever they want.”
Despite calls to hold a special session to address the escalating violent crime issue, several notable Maryland lawmakers refused to support that call, including Senate President Bill Ferguson and Gov. Wes Moore.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City, called for a hearing in September to discuss the current juvenile justice system. In a previous interview with FOX45 News, Clippinger said he doesn’t believe the Department of Juvenile Services is equipped to provide the level of services necessary to juveniles who come into the system after being caught with weapons and facing other serious charges.
Bates said he’s had conversations over the summer with lawmakers, including Clippinger, Ferguson, and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, about addressing the current juvenile crime crisis. Since those conversations, Bates said he does “feel that there are some members of the legislature that have heard” the concerns of the public.
“Without a doubt, do the laws need to change,” Bates said.
In addition to current laws preventing kids 13 years old and younger from facing certain charges — like auto theft — Bates takes issue with the Juvenile Interrogation Act, which he said prevents police and prosecutors from talking with young people without getting consent from an attorney. The law aims to protect young kids, according to Bates, but in reality, he said it’s made investigations difficult and sometimes results in charges never being filed.
“We can’t talk to the young people because we’re not allowed. We cannot do our jobs because our hands are constantly being held in a way that we just can’t,” Bates said.
The Baltimore County car theft spree isn’t isolated.
Four young kids, two 14-year-olds, one 13-year-old, and an 11-year-old, were apprehended by Baltimore City Police after 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 11, evening. Foxtrot, BPD’S helicopter, was called to follow a Hyundai Elantra after officers lost sight of it by ground. As Foxtrot followed the sedan, the driver continued to travel at high speeds, passing multiple stop signs along the way.
“He looks like he’s about 10 years old,” an officer from inside the helicopter said, dispatch audio revealed, during the pursuit.
Baltimore Police said due to Maryland’s Juvenile Justice Reform Act, the 11-year-old was unable to be charged and was picked up by a family member from the scene. The remaining juveniles were all charged.
Earlier in August, seven young people were detained in connection to a car theft in Anne Arundel County; five of the seven were old enough to be charged.
“The 11-year-old and 12-year-old – had it been a carjacking or an attempted carjacking, that meets the criteria for the offenders to be charged,” Corporal Chirs Anderson said, spokesperson for the Anne Arundel County Police Department.
Given the surge in young people stealing cars and the current laws prohibiting appropriate charges from being filed,
City State’s Attorney Bates said, “parents have to be parents,” and sometimes, according to Bates, parents are turning a blind eye to their children’s behavior. According to the police reports, the 11-year-old’s mom had called the Baltimore County Police on several occasions to report her son driving around in a stolen vehicle.
Just before a call came into police on Aug. 17 about a Kia Sportage driving erratically in Essex, the 11-year-old’s mom called police to report her son was known for stealing cars and was driving “a red Kia SUV.”
This situation is an example of why Bates said he wants to work with lawmakers to craft policy to hold parents accountable for their child’s behavior.
“The first time a child steals a vehicle, maybe the parent doesn’t anything about what’s going on. The second time a child steals a vehicle, what if we start holding parents accountable for any and all actions your child has taken,” Bates said. “If we start looking at parents and start holding parents financially accountable for their child’s actions, maybe the parents will start looking at what their children are doing a little more.”