Florida sheriffs say media, judges, politicians ignoring rising rate of violent juvenile crime

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VOLUSIA COUNTY, FL – Sheriff Mike Chitwood of Volusia County, Florida this week noted the increase in violent crimes being perpetrated by young children. While it has become a national trend, Chitwood says it’s happening more in his neck of Florida.

“The kids who tried to kill our deputies in Enterprise are 12 and 14. The kid who punched a security guard who ended up dead is 14,” Chitwood said. “The kid who stabbed a girl 114 times in St. Johns County is 14. The kid who strangled his mom to death and buried her under a fire pit in DeBary was 15. The kid in a stolen car who fled from us into oncoming traffic in Ormond this past weekend was 17 with a history of armed robbery. The kid who participated in robbing, killing and then burning the body of their victim in DeLand last year was 17 with a healthy criminal record. I can go on.”

It’s not sure whether the national trend against police officers and law enforcement is in play or whether this trend is a side effect of children not being in school across America, but Chitwood said it’s becoming a serious problem and few are paying attnetion.

“Rather than own up to a crisis in juvenile justice, and rather than commit to the hard work of addressing it, the powers that be have chosen to lie to the news media and the public,” Chitwood said. “When the Department of Juvenile Justice was questioned by a reporter about the kids who opened fire on my deputies, they didn’t want to admit that they cut the 14-year-old loose the last time she was charged with a serious crime.”

“When a youth is arrested in Florida, a judge determines whether or not they are held in secure juvenile detention or released into the community,” The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) said in a statement regarding the two children who shot officers a few days earlier, released by DJJ.

“That is a blatant lie that is contradicted by the DJJ itself. The 14-year-old girl who fired at our deputies was arrested just a few weeks ago for setting 5 fires in Palm Coast,” Chitwood said. “Flagler County deputies arrested her and took her to DJJ, where she was screened and RELEASED BY DJJ because she didn’t fit their criteria for secure detention. She never saw a judge before she was released, because DJJ determined her crimes weren’t serious enough.”

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said DJJ shares responsibility for the shooting because the teen needs help and the agency failed to provide it before she went on a shooting spree with a 12-year-old boy.

“This young lady needs a lot of help and since DJJ released her back into the same environment that allowed this behavior, I hope she does not do it again and instead gets the help she needs,” Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said at the time.

Chitwood attacked one judge for being too lenient on violent juvenile offenders.

“That’s not to say there aren’t judges out there who are coddling juvenile defendants and assigning them lame apology letters or essays rather than providing them the discipline and structure that might prevent them from reoffending over and over again,” Chitwood said. “I have been on the record before arguing that judges like Judge Mary Jolley are too lenient on juvenile defendants who end up in her courtroom.”

The Sheriff said the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home did the right thing after this week’s shooting. They owned up to the failures of the system and announced they will no longer be housing emergency shelter children like those cut loose by DJJ.

“This situation is tragic and is the result of the system failing our children. These children are in desperate need of care in the appropriate setting, which is a higher level of care than we provide,” FUMCH said.

Sheriff Chitwood said he has fait in Governor Ron DeSantis to begin working on solutions to the growing problem.

“I know that Governor Ron DeSantis can roll up his sleeves and fix this. He has been a supporter of law enforcement, and I’ve seen first hand how he listens to the boots on the ground to find solutions to the complex problems we face. He’s also a father, like me, and I know he wants the best for Florida’s children,” he added. “Our current system is not just unfair to the victims of these crimes. It’s unfair to the juveniles who need discipline, accountability, structure and guidance to turn their lives into productive ones. We can fix this, but the first step is accepting there’s a crisis rather than covering it up.”