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Knoxville Police: Twice as many juveniles committing crimes with guns

At least six of the juveniles arrested this year are facing homicide charges.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The Knoxville Police Department said it's seeing more juveniles committing crimes involving firearms.

Data from the department showed 26 juveniles have been arrested for crimes involving firearms through Nov. 10, 2021. 

That's more than double the number arrested at this point in 2020, according to KPD.

"It's very alarming — especially with kids, with juveniles — because their brains aren't developed yet," Chief Eve Thomas told 10News. "They don't understand the gravity and the finality of death."

At least six of those teens are facing homicide charges.

Credit: WBIR

Chief Thomas said the increase in violence is a continuation of what they saw in 2020: kids looking for structure and normalcy as schools closed or moved virtual.

"When they don't go to school, or they have the option to opt out [of in-person] and they don't have that structure every day, I think that hurts us," Thomas said. "There's a lot of kids out there that don't have anything to do."

Unfortunately, Thomas said they're seeing juveniles turn to gangs for that sense of structure. KPD is watching those groups closely, but it can be difficult to tell which gangs juveniles belong to. 

RELATED: Knox County DA: More juveniles are getting involved with criminal activity

"They're not well organized. Kids just move around. That's why it's hard to track them," she said. "They might be loyal to this group of friends one week and another group the next week."

That's where non-profits like the Safe Haven House, Emerald Youth Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club can help.

"There are a lot of folks out there really working hard to try and get these kids engaged in something else," Thomas said. 

Her officers are also watching repeat juvenile offenders closely.

RELATED: Resources: How you can help students, community in East Knoxville

"We'll do bed checks every night on those juveniles to make sure they're where they're supposed to be, so that they don't have the opportunity to get into anything dangerous," Thomas said. 

She said she's cautiously optimistic that the recent dip in violence reflects their efforts like the East Tennessee Valley Crime Stoppers and the Community Engagement Response Team.

"All of the things that we're doing are finally starting to come to fruition," she said. "But, there's more work to do."

Chief Thomas said it'll take all of us to make a difference. One of the most common places juveniles are able to get guns from is unlocked cars.

"We get kids all the time just trying door handles. They don't even have to break in,"  she said. "Please lock your cars and don't leave firearms in your cars. That's just such an easy target for for kids."