Investigators in New Jersey say children as young as 8-years-old are involved in neighborhood juvenile gangs that are a threat to public safety.
Edwin Torres is an investigator who monitors gang activity for the State Commission of Investigation. He says neighborhood-based juvenile gangs are more dangerous and violent than traditional gangs. And the violence is offered generated by a perceived slight from something they post through their cellphone on social media.
“Social pressure for our young people is so enormous from them to respond that it will result in some sort of violence on the streets. It will be answered on the streets with some sort of violent. It’s almost like pulling some sort of cyber trigger when they post something online.”
Galloway Township police chief Donna Higbee says suburban towns like hers are not seeing the kind of group juvenile gang violence that urban areas are. She says students bringing guns to school is her primary concern.
“What we’re seeing is families that have been relocated or kids that are having mental health or depression breakdowns searching for a group to belong to or something to belong to. And with the advent of social media they’re self-identifying as gang members. They have no qualms or seem to have no fear of putting pictures of themselves up holding weapons, holding handguns.”
Former assistant Camden County Prosecutor Marian Galietta says many prosecutors are frustrated that they can’t keep the violent juvenile offenders off of the streets.
“Many serious juvenile offenders are rarely being detained during that initial detention hearing right after the arrest, nor are they being placed in any kind of secure facility upon their sentence. As a result, once the juveniles are released on supervision, they continue to commit crimes until they enter the adult system.”
Essex County Juvenile Detention Center Captain Michael Thomas says most of the juvenile gang members apprehended on weapons charges are released quickly.
“They may get out on a bracelet or home detention and the next thing you know they violate it and they’re back for more serious crime. And when they come in they’re the most disruptive people, assaultive, and it’s difficult managing them.”
State Commission of Investigation executive director Lee Seglum says youth violence at the street level has mushroomed to a crisis point, and the goal of the hearing on the issue was to spur a statewide conversation on effective ways to deal with it.
“This is the first step in a process that will culminate with a comprehensive report taking into account information, perspective, and recommendations from everyone at every level who must deal with these issues on a daily basis – law enforcement, the judiciary, the juvenile justice system, and the community at large.”