“I used to be one of those kids stealing cars,” he said. “Once you steal a bunch of cars you’re like one of the most popular people in the school,” he said.
While those comments might surprise you, they do not surprise Waterbury City Alderman Victor Lopez, Jr.
“They brag about it,” he said. “The kids call it ‘crash talking’ instead of trash talking. They go back to school, they make a big deal out of it.”
Juveniles stealing cars has been a problem in Waterbury and in cities and towns throughout Connecticut, sometimes resulting in crashes that put innocent lives in danger.
“It’s getting to me,” said Alderman Lopez. “It’s terrifying.”
The alderman says he was almost hit twice by speeding stolen cars driven by juveniles.
“A BMW veered into the lane I was driving in — almost t-boned my vehicle, by the way,” he said.
Police are making arrests, but they also say the law here in Connecticut isn’t tough enough on juveniles who steal cars.
“There’s really no penalty,” said Wolcott Police Chief Edward Stephens. “There is not a juvenile facility where they can put them and keep them there to rehabilitate or anything. I know it’s only a stolen car but you’re getting these kids over and over and over.”
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Chief Stephens and Alderman Lopez both blame Connecticut’s juvenile justice reform laws — so called second chance laws. They both say those laws don’t allow for still jail time for juveniles for crimes like car theft because it’s often difficult to transfer these cases to adult court.
“I’m a big proponent of juvenile reform, juvenile justice reform,” Alderman Lopez said. “I completely agree that we try to prevent the younger kids not being exposed to the judicial system. But I think these kids are figuring out that they can get away with this. It’s kind of become a game for them.”
“We have had several cars stolen out of Wolcott. As a matter of fact, we just had one again this morning where we have made an arrest then kids go to court, but there’s nothing that happens to the kids they know that,” said Chief Stephens.
The Chief says area police departments share intel on kids who are known to steal cars across Connecticut.
“They go from town to town and all the departments work well together,” Chief Stephens said.
Area police are also hoping community policing can reach these kids — programs that get kids and police interacting in a positive light so officers can establish better relationships with the youth they serve in hopes of steering them away from criminal activity.
The unidentified teen from Waterbury says his involvement in Police Activities League (PAL) programs has helped to turn his life around.
“I don’t do drugs anymore, no drinking, no stealing cars,” he said.
Alderman Lopez says Waterbury leaders plan to plead with state lawmakers to enact tougher laws with tougher penalties to turn things around when it comes to juveniles who are still out there stealing cars.
“They’re running rampant in our streets,” he said. “They’re not afraid and we need to make sure that they have an understanding that our streets need to be safe.”