Teen car theft crisis intensifying, getting more dangerous

DAVENPORT - Four bullets flew into Jeannie Morrow's Davenport home a week ago last Sunday, and one came through the master bedroom while she and her husband were sleeping.

"One of us could have been hurt or killed. My 12-year-old son's bedroom is next door and he has a loft bed. Needless to say, that bed would have been at the bullet's level. It was lucky it went through the master bedroom and not his bedroom," said Morrow, a teacher, wife, and mother of two boys.

That night, some kid thieves stole a car a couple blocks away from the Morrow's home on West 51st Street. They found a loaded gun inside, and started firing.

"Those kids stole a car off 49th Street that had a loaded nine millimeter gun in it and they found it and decided to shoot, and they shot eight rounds on the corner of our neighborhood," said Morrow.

She called police and they took pictures.

Close to 800 vehicles have been stolen in the Quad Cities since January of last year. Police say the majority of the thieves are juveniles. Just since January 1, in the city of Davenport alone, 218 vehicles have been reported stolen, an average of two a day.

"Police, they are doing their job, they are arresting them, but they're getting out. The system is set up that way, they don't want to keep the kids locked up," said 8th Ward Ald. Kerri Tompkins, who represents the Morrow's ward.

"They're all crimes of opportunity. At this point it's a bigger issue to figure out how can we make this stop, and that to me, seems like there may need to be a law change, " Tompkins said.

Assistant Scott County attorney Dion Trowers has prosecuted several of the approximate 38 juveniles arrested in Scott County this year. The youngest was 11 years old. The kids under 17 are usually charged with felony theft, and if convicted, placed on probation.

"These are kids. The system doesn't allow us to just lock 'em up and throw away the key. It's just the way the system is and it's about rehabilitation and not punishing kids," Trowers said.

According to recent numbers, about one third of the juveniles are arrested again, for the same thing. It's catch and release to their parents or guardian because of their age.

"This is the system we have been given and we have to work within," Trowers said. "It's all about what we can prove."

Still, he said about 25 to 30 percent of the juvenile car thieves over the past year have wound up serving some time in juvenile facilities like Wittenmyer Youth Center.

Trowers says the kids that have been prosecuted say they were "bored" and were just looking for something to steal.

The thefts have not declined even after Quad City police departments launched a joint "Lock It Up" initiative to encourage people to keep their vehicles locked and not leave unattended vehicles running.

Trowers agrees, locking vehicles is the first line of defense with these crimes of opportunity.

Morrow, like many of the victims, says she is trying to reconcile balancing the rights of young offenders and public safety.

"I don't like the fact the kids keep getting out. It's very frustrating. They shouldn't be released, they should have some consequences. This is a very adult crime. They're stealing cars, and found a gun, and wanted to shoot it. It's gonna take somebody's life", she said.