Younger offenders noted in nation’s crime surge

Younger offenders noted in nation’s crime surge
BY LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press
LA Daily News
Article Last Updated:05/15/2007 09:24:20 PM PDT

WASHINGTON – Increasing violence among teenagers and other youths appears to have contributed to a nationwide crime spike, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Gangs and gun violence are partly to blame for the rise in crime that is on pace to increase for the second straight year, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a prepared speech.

In response, the Justice Department is pledging to spend nearly $50 million this year to combat gangs and guns, and will push Congress to enact new laws to let the federal government better investigate and prosecute violent crime.

FBI data from last fall show violent crimes, including murders and robberies, rose by 3.7 percent nationwide during the first six months of 2006. Those findings came on top of a 2.2 percent crime hike in 2005 – the first increase since 2001.

Faced with the discouraging data, Gonzales last fall ordered a study of 18 cities and suburban regions to show why crime is surging.

According to Gonzales’ prepared remarks and a Justice Department fact sheet, obtained by The Associated Press, the study found:

That a growing number of offenders appear to be younger, and their crimes more violent, and that laws in some states provide few, if any, tough penalties on juvenile offenders.

Many youths have little parental oversight and are too easily influenced by gang membership and glamorized violence in popular culture.

Loosely organized gangs present the biggest concern for law enforcement officials because they are hard to investigate and their members often commit random acts of crime out of self-protection.

Offenses committed by people using firearms pose a major threat not only to communities, but also to police. So-called “straw purchases,” where gun owners buy their firearms through a go-between, is an area of concern.

In Los Angeles, year-to-date statistics show violent crime is down 7 percent as the Los Angeles Police Department, the FBI and city and state prosecutors have stepped up anti-gang efforts, which often involves targeting teenage criminals.

In 2006, there was a 2.5 percent decrease in violent crimes citywide. But police officials say that some crimes, including gang-related homicides, account for roughly half of the city’s total.

So far this year, 60 of the city’s 126 homicides have been classified as gang-related. If not for unsolved homicides, those numbers might be higher.

“If we suppress gang activities overall, we’re going to have violent crimes decrease, which we’ve done,” said Jason Lee, LAPD spokesman. “We’re looking at a decrease in violent crimes as opposed to nationwide, which is good.”

The Justice Department plans to distribute $18 million in grants nationwide this year to prevent and reduce illegal gun sales and other firearms crimes.

Gonzales also will announce spending $31 million in new funds this year to combat gangs, according to the Justice Department fact sheet. The department also is working on a new crime bill to help federal authorities assist local and state police in cases involving juvenile crime.

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