GREENVILLE, AL (WSFA) - Greenville police have issued a warning as teenagers continue to get caught breaking into homes and cars. Officials say in a push to stop the crimes, they're looking at charging the kids' parents, as well.
"We've had a lot of teenagers breaking into cars," said Lt. Joseph Disney, who oversees the department's Investigations Division. "We've had a lot of teenagers breaking into houses. We even had one armed home invasion that was done by teenagers."
In April, a resident on Grant Street heard a knock on his back door. When he answered, he found four men wearing masks and armed with a shotgun at the door. They forced their way inside the home and took a small amount of cash and the keys to his car.
They then got into the victim's vehicle and drove off. Officers were then called to the home and they notified investigations who responded to process the scene. Investigators were able to collect some useful evidence at the residence.
The victim's vehicle was located by officers about a mile away shortly after receiving the call. It was left in an abandoned lot. Officers processed it for evidence and then returned it to the victim.
After a two month long investigation, all four suspects were identified and arrested using the evidence collected and information gathered. Three of the four are juveniles, two just 14 and the other 17, whom police have petitioned the court to charge as an adult. The fourth suspect is Chance Morris, 18, of Greenville. All four were charged with both robbery and burglary in the first degree.
In a separate case, investigations also solved several recent vehicle break-ins on Winkler Street and Parmer Street. The victims reported that their vehicles had items missing from them overnight while parked - unlocked - at their homes.
Investigators were able to identify and arrest the two suspects, who turned out to be male juveniles ages 14 and 16. They were both charged with two counts of breaking and entering of a motor vehicle.
In an unrelated, but similar case, officers were also able to observe three people trespassing at a residence on West Wood Circle late at night. They appeared to be standing by a vehicle at the residence. Officers attempted to approach them, but they fled on foot. They were apprehended about a block away.
All three suspects were male juveniles, two aged 16 and the third 17. They were arrested for third-degree criminal trespassing attempting to elude police officers.
Disney said he arrested one of the same teens from the Winkler and Parmer break-ins not even two weeks later for breaking into more cars on Woodland Drive and Woodland Ct. across from Greenville Middle School.
The 14-year-old faces four charges of breaking and entering and two other teenagers were arrested with him. Police said he stole a gun out of one of the cars, which was later recovered by investigators. The boy is now being held in a juvenile detention facility.
"Depending on how bad the crime is, if it's a major felony, then the juvenile court system will have them sent off to a juvenile detention facility," Disney said. "If it's not a violent crime or higher class felony, then we have to release them back to their parents, which gives them the opportunity to do it again."
Police says it's simply the nature of the juvenile system in Alabama. Many of the detention facilities are full and don't have room to house any more offenders.
"That seems to be the case a lot and it tells me there's too many juveniles doing too many bad things right now," Disney added.
In a recent press release, Greenville Police Chief Justin Lovvorn indicated that the department will request the maximum punishment for "all juveniles" in these types of crimes. He went on to state that if any juvenile continues to commit crimes after being released to their parents or guardian, charges will be sought against them as well and jail time will be requested for that parent if they are "negligent in their supervision of the juvenile."
"There are several departments in the state that are already doing that exact thing," Disney explained. "Our chief is in talks with the district attorney's office and local court system to see what we can do for some of these parents we feel aren't taking the responsibility of raising their children. They're allowing their children to go out here and do things that are illegal."
"We can arrest them and turn them back over to their parents and the parents are still letting them go out and get into more and more trouble," Disney added. "Therefore, it becomes a parenting issue also. For us to hold the parents accountable would also help the children in the long run."
Community members hope it's a wakeup call for parents to know where their kids are and what they're doing.
"Some of the parents are most of the problem," one resident explained. "They hold these kids up in the wrong and that's most of the problem."
"If their kids are out at an hour that's not appropriate, then it is the parents' fault," added Greenville resident Willie Crenshaw, "but they really need more for these kids to do. They need a skating rink or something to keep their minds occupied."
Greenville police have hosted several different "Cops & Kids" community events and mentoring programs, along with internships at the police department.
Chief Lovvorn developed an alternative sentencing program for juveniles, which is a 20-hour program that spans four weeks. The teens shadow officers during that time.
Juveniles can be submitted to the program if they've been arrested and charged with certain criminal offenses. The judge can refer them to it.
"They would go out and do physical activity with our Tactical Operations Team," the chief said. "They would do a certain number of hours with scenario based training where we would put them in situations that we created to see how they handled it. Then, we'd go back and suggest handling it a different way and see if the outcome works out better when you're encountered by law enforcement."
It's designed to show the teens how different behaviors can produce different outcomes and prevent them from turning back to the things that have been getting them in trouble. The program is in the process of being approved.
Even without a criminal charge, parents having problems with their children can have them take part in the program once it's up and running. At the end, participants write an essay on what they want to do with their future.
It's all in an effort to connect with local youth and turn their attention away from crime, and towards a brighter future.
"We, as a department, are trying our best to reach juveniles at all levels," Disney said. "We want them to understand that every action has a consequence to it. Hopefully, they have learned something from us that they'll be able to keep, something of value."