Memphis' ‘gang epidemic' driving increase in juvenile violent crime

Major violent crime in Memphis is down a little more than 3 percent this year, according to TBI data from January to September.

Major crime in Shelby County is 4.4 percent.

However, with the good news comes the bad – that juvenile violent crime is rising at disturbing levels.

FOX13 spoke exclusively with Shelby County District Attorney General about the disturbing new trend, and what is being done to turn it around.

January to September of this year, there have been 671 major violent charges against juveniles in Memphis and Shelby County.

“We’ve been seeing juvenile violent crime: murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, those violent crimes have been increasing by our juvenile population,” said Amy Weirich, Shelby County District Attorney General.

According to data provided by the Juvenile Court, that is a more than 58 percent increase compared to 2018.

We asked Weirich if it was just in the reader’s head that every time, we read an article, the suspect seems to be younger and younger.

“It’s not,” she said. “They are getting younger. We seem to be seeing more group and gang-related criminal activity.”

Memphis’ gang epidemic and juvenile violence problem comes at a crossroads here.

In 2017, the Memphis Shelby County Crime Commission hired Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to examine how to tackle violent crime.

The report blamed the city’s violent crime numbers on gangs.

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Shelby County District Attorney Weirich said an idea that came out of the report was the need for a juvenile assessment center.

“Instead of waiting weeks after that incident and finding out what’s going on, we would get to these young people as soon as possible and find out if it’s gang-motivated, are you being bullied, what’s going on in your life,” Weirich said.

According to Weirich, the key is juvenile intervention, but if the focus is on 16, 17-year-olds, it’s too late.

“If we can get the attention of a 9,10, 11-year-old before it’s too late, then we can save them from a life of crime, and we can save tomorrow’s victim,” she said.

But the big issue is funding.

In the interim, Weirich’s office is focusing on truancy to curb the spike in these sorts of crimes.

“The problem we’ve got right now with the juvenile system is the thought it’s just a slap on the wrist,” she said. “There’s not much that can be done except the worst-case scenario transfer and treat these offenders as adults, and prosecute them here in adult court.”

Another report recommendation was to expand the Multi-Agency Gang Unit, which has grown exponentially, from 34 to 57 full time officers, but Weirich said, there needs to be more buy-in.

“The caseloads across the state for prosecutors have gone up, and the legislature has not met our needs as it relates to people and resources,” Weirich said.

District Attorney General Weirich said a lot of work has been happened behind the scenes on that youth assessment facility project, but it also needs resources.

She said she hopes a variation of that center will be up and running soon.