GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Vehicle thefts across Kent County are continuing to trouble law enforcement and Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker.

The trend has been targeting Kia and Hyundai vehicles and it’s something happening nationwide. As far as putting a stop to it in Kent County, Becker said there’s not much he can do.

Becker has received about 50 phone calls and emails combined from community members who are concerned but he says options for handling juveniles under 18 are limited.

“Primarily these are juvenile offenders and everyone seems to think we can arrest them and they can be lodged at the Kent County Correctional Facility in jail but we can’t do that under Michigan law,” he said.

When a child under 18 commits a crime, it’s handled by the juvenile court though the juvenile offenders don’t get automatically sentenced to detention facilities. That’s why in these cases a lot of the juveniles are back out in the community within a day of being arrested for a crime. The courts try to help the juveniles instead of locking them up, especially on the first offense.

“It’s a probationary offense. They’ll have a probationary officer. They’ll get whatever programming,” Becker said. “Ideally, they try to look at the family and what’s going on with the family. Is there substance abuse? Is there mental health issues? Is there familial issues, something going on with the parents?”

Becker added that when juveniles commit more serious crimes like murder, they can be put in adult court without question.

That’s done by submitting an automatic waiver. However, it’s not something that can be done for juveniles with no criminal history who commit less serious crimes. Juveniles have to build a criminal history for the petition to be more likely approved by the district court.

“For unlawful driving away of an auto it’s not an automatic waiver but say a juvenile commits five, six, seven, eight crimes and they’ve been in the system, they’ve done the treatment, they’ve gotten all the services the juvenile system provides, we can request the court to waive that over into adult court and we’ve started doing that in some of these cases,” he said.

Becker said the juveniles who are committing these crimes are between 11 and 17 years old.

Even if juveniles could be lodged in the detention center pending trial, the facility is dealing with staffing issues of its own so space is limited.

The community has expressed concern that there’s no accountability which only entices juveniles to continue committing crimes but Becker said there are consequences that will come eventually.

“It catches up to you. One or two, I can see where they might think that but it doesn’t go on forever and if something worse happens like you’re stealing a car then you go out and kill somebody because you’re driving then it may start small but whatever happens in that incident could even cause something bigger,” he said.

Becker believes solving the problem is a joint effort between community organizations, churches and law enforcement. One entity can’t do it alone.

“Some parents are at their wit’s end. They don’t know what to do. Others may not be as involved and that’s part of the issue,” he said. “It has to be a community solution. Churches can get involved. They presumably would know some of these kids that are going to their church or their family is going to the church. They may be able to intervene and say what’s going on. The streets talk. They know what’s going on in these families.”

Becker would like to see more rehabilitative efforts with these juveniles and believes solutions should be tailored to fit an individual’s needs.

“This is nothing new and we are doing everything we can but it has to be a combination of deterrence and understanding that bad things can happen. It has to be about what can we do to help these kids in terms of getting them the programming they need,” he said. “Maybe it is because they need money and it’s a way to earn money. Maybe it is they have mental issues. We have to be able to treat that as well and intervene after one incident and get that behavior changed versus having it occur over and over again and having that have serious impacts on the community.”