Sheriff Judd, community seek solutions to curb juvenile crime

By Stephanie Claytor, Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, August 12, 2017, 5:58 PM EDT

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the issue of juvenile crime is widespread and happening across the state.

On the heels of a deadly crash in Pinellas County involving teen boys and a stolen car, Polk County authorities said days later, two separate groups of teen boys went on a crime spree in Bartow and Winter Haven.

  • Judd to Dept. of Juvenile Justice: 'Give us the beds back'
  • Bartow Vice Mayor calls crime spree disheartening
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters seeks male mentors

They said the crime sprees involved loaded guns, a stolen car and the burglary of a Polk County sheriff deputy's truck, where guns and a ballistic vest were stolen.

"What's important to point out is it's not just a Pinellas County problem. It's a statewide problem," said Sheriff Grady Judd. "It's created because the Department of Juvenile Justice has reduced the beds so there's not program space to lock these prolific juveniles up like there used to be."

All of the teens involved in this week's crime spree in Polk County already had a criminal record and several were on probation.

Sheriff Judd is calling on the Department of Juvenile Justice to make changes and send more kids involved in serious crimes to secure facilities equipped with training and therapy.

"Give us the beds back. Give us the right education training, and therapy programs while the kids are locked up," Judd said. "You'll see crime go down and you'll be operating in the best interest of the child, which is what they're supposed to be doing. But they're not, and that's why we had dead kids last weekend."

"I'm not suggesting for one second that we should lock up all of the juveniles. That's not true," he said. "We believe in the diversion programs for first-time offenders, second-time offenders, third-time offenders for minor events. It's the criminal juvenile that does it over and over and over and over."

We reached out to the Department of Juvenile Justice. It has not responded to our request for comment.

Bartow Vice Mayor Leo Longworth called the crime spree disheartening. He said more has to be done to provide these young men mentors before they head down the wrong path.

"The city is in favor of having some kind of mentorship for our young kids," Longworth said. "Because you know what mentorship programs do, they make better citizens, better employees and they just make better people period. So it's needed."

Longworth said right now, the mentoring programs in Bartow are sporadic and mostly exist in churches.

The organization Big Brothers Big Sisters also said it's trying to curb juvenile crime. It's in desperate need of male mentors across Polk County. It currently has 64 boys who are waiting to be matched.

"The difference that it makes, 98 percent of our littles have no contact with the juvenile justice system. Ninety-eight percent are promoted to the next grade level. Those are the big difference that we make that impacts the whole community," said Javan Frinks, Polk County Regional Director.

Frinks said the organization is launching the campaign, "100 men in 100 days" on Aug. 18 in an effort to locate more male mentors. The organization's site based program requires mentors to spend one hour a week for an entire school year with the mentee; its community-based program requires the mentors to pick up their mentee from their home and spend eight hours a month with them for 15 months.