The detectives had a name and address and they knew the suspects were young.
But beyond those details, they weren’t sure what to expect as they prepared to make contact with a burglary suspect who broke into a home on Jan. 2 and stole an unwrapped iPad and jewelry from underneath a family’s Christmas tree.
The veteran cops – with more than 30 years experience between them – were shocked. The “suspect” was an innocent-looking little boy, who stood an even 4-feet-tall and weighed 80 pounds. He was wearing jeans and sweatshirt and looked like an average elementary school student.
“That’s him?” Sgt. Dennis Briggs asked.
“I think that’s him,” responded Det. Chris Cooper.
In a new trend police call disturbing, children as young as 12 years old are breaking into homes and stealing televisions, jewelry and anything they can carry or stuff into their pockets.
So far this year, police have arrested three 12-year-olds, a 13-year-old and several other 14-17-year-olds on suspicion of burglary.
And, police say, these aren’t crimes of opportunity. They are hopping fences, prying sliders and crawling through bathroom windows.
The 12-year-old they arrested in January is a sixth-grader at an Anaheim elementary school. He also had a baggie of marijuana in his pocket, Cooper said.
The crying boy immediately confessed, Cooper said, and led officers to his alleged partner-in-crime, a 13-year-old who, at 5-foot-1, 90 pounds, was equally boyish.
The pre-teen told detectives his reason for committing the crime: “It was something to do.”
In a separate March burglary, two 12-year-olds hopped a patio fence and pried a sliding-glass door, before snatching a television and jewelry. Cooper recognized the boys from six-months earlier, when he arrested them for breaking into their school on the weekend and littering it with milk and orange cartons.
Police refer youngsters who vandalize or commit petty thefts to a rehabilitation program rather than jail.
They take burglary suspects to Juvenile Hall, no matter their age. In both cases, police returned the stolen goods to their owners.
A few years ago, about three of four alleged burglars were adults, Briggs said. More recently the trend has reversed, and the burglars keep getting younger, Briggs said. The kids generally don’t look menacing. They aren’t dressed like gang members.
He suggests that if anybody sees kids loitering, looking over fences or acting suspicious, they should call police.
“What I’ve seen is a lot of vandalism, sniffing paint, that kind of stuff,” Cooper said of pre-teens. “Nothing like residential burglaries.”
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