CHICAGO (WGN) — Last year, the city saw big increases in the number of shootings and carjackings.
But those weren’t the only disturbing crime trends.
Chicago also saw a spike in juveniles, age 17 and younger, arrested for first-degree murder. Some too young to legally drive, but apparently old enough to pull the trigger.
WGN Investigates obtained police data showing a total of 36 juveniles arrested for homicide last year, a 35 percent increase over 2019 when 27 faced charges.
Last year’s arrestees include a 15-year-old boy, among four charged in the fatal shooting of a retired firefighter last December outside a Southwest Side popcorn shop.
That same month, Cameron Rudder, 27, was shot and killed at a house party near 53rd Street and Prairie Avenue. His mother, Consuello Rudder, says his body wasn’t discovered until the next day.
Police have told her they believe a 14-year-old boy may have been the triggerman.
“My first question is why would a 14-year-old feel the need to carry a gun?” Rudder said.
There have been no charges filed yet, but, if what police believe is true, it underscores the greater role juveniles are playing in violent crimes throughout the city.
“I think we pretty much noticed the uptick starting in April,” said Rahman Muhammad, Deputy Chief of the Chicago Police’s Detective Division. “But now it’s through the roof.”
Police say there are numerous reasons for the increase, many related to the pandemic such as the closing of schools. But they also note that, thanks to changes to state law, juveniles now face much lighter punishments than they did previously for crimes such as carjackings because there are restrictions on moving them to adult court.
“In my opinion, they can be strengthened,” Muhammad says.
Elizabeth Clarke, president of Juvenile Justice Initiative, a statewide advocacy organization, said harsher punishments and incarceration are not always the best deterrents.
She believes a more pro-active approach involving “crisis intervention” and no arrests “for low-level misdemeanor offenses” has proven to be much more effective.
For Consuello Rudder, any new plan or program is too late to save her son. She remains hopeful, however, that it can make a difference in someone else’s life.
“Justice would be my son being here,” she says. “That would be all that I would want.”