Juvenile crime on rise: Jeff Davis asks for help to tackle growing problem

Published 5:34 am Sunday, June 19, 2022

JENNINGS — Local and state officials are seeking solutions to rising juvenile crime in the area, including securing funds for a regional juvenile detention center to serve Jeff Davis and surrounding parishes.

Jennings Mayor Henry Guinn said juvenile crime is not something unique to the city and is not something that can easily be fixed within a municipal government, but said solutions are being sought.

“Jennings is not immune to juvenile crime and if you get arrested, those juveniles are given leeway that an adult is not given which creates redundancies,” Guinn said. “We are very aware of what’s happening in Jennings”

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He said city officials communicate almost daily with the Sheriff’s Office, Welsh Police Departments and State Police on problems with juveniles.

“I think the issue is so large that it is going to take a higher power to coordinate,” Guinn said. “It is going to take a leader to spearhead the problem because it is not isolated to Jennings.”

About five months ago Guinn said city leaders met with district judges, district attorney, Sheriff’s Office, State Police and other government agencies to discuss issues, including locating a regional juvenile detention center in the area.

“I don’t think there is a quick fix to juvenile crime other than partnering with the Police Jury and Sheriff’s Office and encouraging those agencies to partner with Allen, Beauregard, Acadia and Vermilion parishes because all of those parishes do not have a juvenile detention center,” he said. “What we have seen over the past five to six months is Lake Charles and Lafayette refusing our juveniles (because they are overcrowded). That has pushed us as far as Alabama to hold 16- and 17-year-old kids.”

The city and parish are small and can’t fund a juvenile detention center alone, he said.

“I think it would be best served if we partnered with our parish presidents and police juries and go to the Capital and ask jointly for funding to begin the process of a juvenile detention center,” Guinn said. “These rural areas are constantly overlooked for funding because we don’t have the population to support large influxes of cash for a juvenile detention center. That is why we need to partner with other rural parishes and create some sort of regional facility.”

Jennings Police Chief Danny Semmes is working with Sen. Mark Abrahan, R-Lake Charles, area police chiefs and community leaders to attempt to secure funds to tackle juvenile crimes and fund a regional juvenile detention center.

“We are making efforts to remedy this situation,” Semmes said, adding there are not enough state-run juvenile facilities to accommodate the rising number of juvenile offenders in Jeff Davis Parish and surrounding areas.

The Jennings Police Department has recovered over 50 guns so far this year, the majority from juveniles, Semmes said. More than 150 guns were confiscated last year, many also in possession of juveniles, he said.

“We have identified a group of over 40 juveniles acting in concert together,” he said. “Since they have gotten of age we have put seven in jail.”

One local juvenile, who has been arrested six times for possession of stolen guns, is a fugitive.

The city has also charged at least one parent with improper supervision of a juvenile.

Concerned residents Danielle White and Angela Lehman, both of the Jennings, said it is time to make juvenile offenders, parents and guardians more accountable for the youths’ actions.

White said juveniles are shooting bullets through elderly people’s homes. She is worried it will continue until they kill someone.

“We have this new school built on that end of town and that school is going to be in lockdown every other day because somebody is shooting around the corner,” White said.

Both women said juveniles are openly walking the streets with backpacks with guns and drugs. All actions they say have been repeatedly reported to police and caught on camera.

“If kids have no consequences they know they can do this and get away with it, so it’s going to get worse than this,” White said.

Lehman said she has had problems with people walking past her house with guns in their hands and has seen young people on social media with weapons threatening to kill other people.

“It’s not a game if you look at what’s happening with young people and guns,” she said. “The young man is online in front of a city of Jennings fire truck saying he is going to kill someone.”

Jennings City President Stevie VanHook said there have been several meetings in regards to juveniles and holding parents accountable.

“They are doing everything they can to pick those kids up and ship them to other states only for them to be back in several hours,” VanHook said.

Juveniles have the right to bond out and must be seen by the judge within 72 hours, Semmes said.

In an attempt to curtail some of the problems, the city of Jennings recently enacted a curfew ordinance instituting a juvenile curfew of 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. Sunday-Thursday and midnight until 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday for youths under the age of 18.

The ordinance makes it unlawful for minors to be out in public during the hours set. However, the provisions do not apply if the juvenile is accompanied by a parent or guardian or if they are involved in a school-related or church activity or during emergencies.

The ordinance also sets fines of up to $200 and six months in jail for parents or guardians who knowingly allow minor children to violate the ordinance.

“We can’t drop the ball,“ Councilwoman Carolyn Simon. “We have to come together as a community to reinforce what we know we should be reinforcing and that is the law. We need to have patrolmen throughout our community, not just sometimes during the day, but all times of the day.”