Raleigh Police seek community support to address rise in youth violence: 'We can't solve this alone'

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024
Raleigh PD seeks community support to address rise in youth violence
Raleigh Police say the problem can't just be pinpointed as youth gangs.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Raleigh Police Department is addressing a rise in youth violence and working with community partners in an attempt to combat the issue.

The overall numbers show a slight rise, with those younger than 18 committing one homicide in 2020, five in 2021, five in 2022, seven last year, and at least two already this year.

Two of the killings happened on the same day in Raleigh. A 14-year-old is believed to have shot and killed a man on Bragg Street, with another 14-year-old believed to have shot and killed another man on Poole Road less than an hour later. Police don't believe the two shootings are connected.

Here are the numbers from RPD that illustrate the rise:

RPD Capt. Timothy Tomczak said it's hard to pinpoint a cause for the increase. Youth gangs are part of the problem, but they've evolved.

"When I started on the department, it was pretty clear-cut what gangs were, they were flashing their signs. They were flashing their colors and things like that, and now it's more of kids hanging out with the kids doing crimes," Tomczak said.

Crime-prevention strategies

One of the biggest ways RPD is working to combat the problem is asking the community to safely secure firearms. The department held a free gun lock giveaway last month, in addition to working with Wake County Schools to pass a resolution that provides resources and education to Wake County families about securely storing firearms, and the consequences that exist if the guns get into the hands of kids.

Tomczak said the department is also working with school resource officers in Raleigh high schools to identify early warning signs.

"When they're starting to do these minor offenses skipping school, trespassing, petty theft, we try to get them into diversion programs and show them that just because you made a mistake now, it doesn't have to stick with you for your whole life," Tomczak said.

RPD also partners with organizations providing after-school programs, hoping to occupy the time of kids in our community, help them build skills for later in life, and try to connect them with positive role models.

The department is also working to provide solutions for children who have continued to struggle.

"Once they start appearing in our reports over and over again, we try to work with the court system, the juvenile court system in this case, and ensure that they're getting the access to treatment or diversion or in some cases, punishment that is appropriate for the case," Tomczak said.

Not unique to Raleigh

This problem is not specific to Raleigh, it's happening in cities all across the country, but Tomczak said the stakes are high. If this trend continues, it becomes more challenging for youth offenders to get on a better path before turning 18, when the consequences become more severe. This means more people in our community could spend much of their lives in and out of incarceration.

"Juvenile violent crime especially is a community problem. It's not just a police problem. We can't solve this alone. We don't have the tools. We don't have all the resources. So, what we do is build partnerships, and I would just ask people in the community to be open to those partnerships, find ways that maybe you can contribute to help youth violence decline," Tomczak said. "Maybe it's volunteering and some youth programs around your area. Maybe it's working with the criminal justice system in some other way. But let's find a way so that these 15- and 16-, 17-year-old offenders don't turn 18, and now we're looking at long prison sentences because we haven't helped them avoid their path to violence."

He's asking parents to keep an eye on who their children are spending time with, being actively engaged in their lives.

The city of Raleigh was also selected as a Public Safety Partnership site, which specifically targets violent crime through providing training and subject matter expertise. Though the city is still working through the nuances of the partnership, RPD is confident that juvenile crime trends will be addressed through this program.