STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA) - Over the past six years, the juvenile crime rate in Starkville has increased to levels concerning the police department for the safety of its town.
“The last five victims we’ve had of homicide had one thing in common, they had a long history in the juvenile system,” explained Mark Ballard.
Ballard was named the Starkville Police Chief a little more than a year ago.
He said one of his biggest goals as chief is to fix the juvenile system in town.
“When you say juvenile crime, many times individuals gravitate towards vandalism or petty theft," said the police chief. "That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about grand larceny auto, aggravated assault. We’ve even had cases of attempted murder and one case of murder.”
Just last year, the department made 32 arrests of children under the age of 18 for felonies.
However, Ballard said one of the most concerning aspects of the juvenile crime is the repeat arrests.
“Within our department, we’ve had to arrest a juvenile for the same crime twice in a 24-hour period," he said. "That’s pretty eye catching when you realize, ‘Okay, we need a better infrastructure.’”
Ballard said he's seen children under the age of 12 arrested for auto burglary.
The most common items teens steal are weapons which Ballard said is transitioning to violent crimes.
In order to combat these crimes, as well as the repeat offenses, Ballard believes adding more attorneys would speed up the court processing system.
“We can’t wait six months or three months in between trials," he said. "We really need to get these children, especially if they’re in a home front that’s not conducive, we need to be able to get them into a system very quickly and get them in to the right monitoring, the right mentorship in order to get them out of the criminal lifestyle as quickly as we can.”
Ballard said he feels one of the best solutions to the teen crime rate in Starkville is to add a facility for judges to use for temporary holdings rather than relying on the state.
He did not say what the timeline is for this action, although he hopes to make progress in the crime rate as quickly as possible.