MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The Muskegon County prosecutor says he’s going to start charging more minors involved in gun crimes as adults.

Prosecutor D.J. Hilson’s announcement came after several shootings in the county over the past few months. Hilson said he and law enforcement agencies typically expect to see an uptick in violent crime in the warmer months but it’s happening at an alarming rate and the victims and shooters are getting younger — a trend law enforcement elsewhere in West Michigan have also noted.

“Some of the most difficult conversations that I’ve had during my career as a prosecutor have been sitting in this very room sitting across from families who have lost somebody due to gun violence,” Hilson said.

The prosecutor said he has been advised by local law enforcement that many of the younger suspects facing gun or shooting charges are being directed by older members of the community to get involved in gun crime because the consequences for juveniles are typically less severe. He said he is now looking at charging more minors as adults to discourage them from picking up firearms.

“The pushback that I’m always worried about is people saying, ‘Well, these are just kids. How can we treat these kids like adults?’ And unfortunately, we’re beyond the situation where it’s just curiosity. Now it’s maybe a little curiosity on top of, ‘Well, I’m going to do this because I want to be cool in front of my friends and I want to impress whomever and this is what I have to do,'” Hilson said. “Carrying around a gun doesn’t make you look cool, doesn’t make you look tough. It just puts you in a position where you’re going to end up hurting yourself of somebody else.”

He said that though there are several grassroots groups like G.U.N.S., the Boys and Girls Club and Path Finder that have been working to stop gun violence before it happens, some young people are still making bad choices that impact the entire community. He said that’s why it’s important that his office sends a strong message.

“In my view, when you decide to play this game involving weapons and guns in particular, you’re putting not only yourself but also everyone else around you at risk. Public safety is really important in my office. Ultimately, I think some of that response is sending a very strong message that if you want to act like an adult, we’re going to treat you like one,” Hilson said.

Bill and Louella Johnson, who have lived in Muskegon County for more than six decades, say it wasn’t always like this.

“It wasn’t everyday somebody shooting somebody. It wasn’t every day that somebody was breaking into somebody’s house, wasn’t every day that people were disrespecting elders, but it’s changed so much. It’s like they don’t have a heart. They don’t care,” Louella Johnson said as she sat on her front porch Tuesday.

They say kids need more programs to occupy their time and more community members need to be involved in kids’ upbringing.

“We need more places for kids to go. It’s nothing for them to do,” Bill Johnson said.

They said some nights, they can hear gunfire as they lay in bed and they want things need to change.

“It needs to stop. Somebody has got to put a stop to it. Before the day is out, somebody around here (is) going to be shooting,” Louella Johnson said.

Hilson said he has received support from local leaders who are also eager to curb gun violence. Muskegon Heights officials say one of the incidents that sparked the crackdown happened a few weeks ago. Mayor Pro Tem Ronal Jenkins posted to Facebook on July 5 that a police officer was shot at several times while responding to a call for help.

“Fortunately, he was unharmed and doing well but the mere fact that someone would shoot at officers that are here and responding to helping others are shameful,” Jenkins said in the post. “After speaking with the Prosecutor’s Office, those youth that are caught up in these shootings and talked into committing crimes involved with shootings will begin to be charged as an adult no matter the age.”

Hilson plans to begin with a framework of charging kids caught with guns or suspected of shooting as adults and go from there, though he said the decision on whether to charge as an adult or juvenile will still be made on a case-by-case basis.