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Car thefts by kids on the rise, police say

Bettendorf and Davenport police say the average age of kids stealing cars is between 12 and 17 years old.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — As police around the Quad Cities look for stolen cars, they have noticed a pattern.

"If there's a car load of juveniles out after curfew, that's an indication for us to at minimum check on that car, to see, you know, run the plate," said Bettendorf Police Chief Keith Kimball.

Kimball said his department has seen an increase in kids stealing cars, with an average age ranging from 12 to 17 years old.

Davenport saw an increase in kids stealing cars, too, with an average age ranging from 15 to 17, according to Police Chief Paul Sikorski.

Davenport Police saw about 500 stolen cars in 2020, according to Sikorski.

RELATED: Car thefts on the rise in the Quad Cities; police warn stolen vehicles are often used to commit other crimes

In Scott County in 2020, Juvenile Court Services handled 103 stolen car cases, 97 percent of which were charged as a felony, according to Scott Hobart, the chief juvenile court officer for Iowa's 7th judicial district.

Hobart said a child could face one of three charges for car theft: an aggravated misdemeanor, a Class D felony or a Class C felony.

"Our job is not just to hold that youth accountable, because there's a lot of ways the system doesn't," Hobart said. "You look at that felony charge, there's a lot of sanctions that come with that."

Hobart said most kids stay in the juvenile detention center while a support plan is developed.

"The juvenile system is different, because youth are young, they're more impulsive," Hobart said.

Hobart said detention is not a long-term solution, so a judge can tailor a plan to each child and specific case, taking into account previous criminal history. Those plans could include house arrest, GPS monitoring or group programming.

"They have behavioral expectations and goals that are set for them, and a lot of youth become frustrated with that," Hobart said. 

There are "foster care placements" to provide kids with specific support and structure, "depending on what the youth needs," Hobart said.

A child convicted of a felony has to wait until they turn 18 years old and have a clean record without a charge higher than a simple misdemeanor for two years, before appearing before a judge to request the felony be expunged, according to Hobart.

"The issue you’re going to have with a lot of kids is they might not remember that it’s on there, they might think it’s already been expunged so they have to remember to come back and do that," Hobart said.

"I think it’s plain to see we have a lot of room for improvement as far as our systems go," said Sikorski.

Hobart agreed there are gaps in support systems, but said he believes the juvenile corrections process has gotten better in the last five years.

"We take every one of these car thefts as a failure," Hobart said. "Every one is a way we could have done better."

Hobart also advocates for more resources in schools, helping to identify kids who may be at a higher risk for committing crimes. Hobart said that early intervention can help the crimes from happening at all.

"The more we can get them involved in those positive, pro-social activities while we have them, the better the chance, the safer the community is in the long run," Hobart said.