State lawmakers hold hearing after rise in youth street crime

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TRENTON -

New Jersey state lawmakers held a hearing Wednesday to address what they say is the rise of street crime among New Jersey youth.

Law enforcement officials say that officers are encountering children as young as 12 years old who are in the possession of a gun.

New Jersey Commission of Investigation Special Agent Edwin Torres says that the number of teens being arrested with guns is up 26 percent since 2015.

“Their level of violence is unprecedented,” he says.

Authorities say that today’s street gangs function without an organized hierarchy like gangs did in the past. They say that members now dispatch each other on social media.

“I’ve interviewed number gang members and asked ‘Why are you posting online? Aren’t you afraid of getting caught?’ and they say, ‘No. By the time you catch us, it’ll be years.’” Torres says. ”We’re reactionary, so we have to be more aggressive.”

Police say that the teens communicate using emojis online. They say that they are working to learn the codes because of the increase of violence in the streets. They say that juvenile shootings victims have increased by 200 percent since 2015.

“Zero consequences. They have no consequences for their actions. What I’ve seen, in my opinion, people have made excuses for their behavior rather than coming to terms with what they’re doing and punishing for offenses,” says Lt. Christopher Taggart.

Authorities say that members of neighborhood gangs will resort to violence to even the slightest signs of disrespect.

“These guys want to belong to something, so they go out and do whatever they’re asked to do and that is a part of the problem,” says Capt. Michael Thomas.

This is in sharp contrast to many other New Jersey youth who have joined the “March For Our Lives” movement to end gun violence in the wake of several school shootings last school year.

The State Commission of Investigation says that it will come back within the next six months with recommendations to combat the gang problem based on testimony from the hearing.

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