Oklahoma City police Chief Dave McBride says coddling juvenile offenders just leads to more adult criminals.
McBride, speaking at the 97th International Association of Chiefs of Police Convention, criticized some parents and said the courts' handling of juveniles is "the biggest failure of the justice system.""There's almost no such thing as a first-time (adult) offender," McBride said. "Most of the adults in prison were handled a half-dozen times as juveniles."
McBride and more than 7,000 other police chiefs from around the world have gathered in Tulsa for the convention. Chiefs from Japan, the Philippines and Germany also are scheduled to attend the six-day meeting, which began Sunday.
McBride said he doesn't have all the solutions to juvenile crime, but believes a starting point is at home.
"There are more parental delinquents than there are juvenile delinquents," he said. "Too many parents send their kids to school to learn morality. They don't have any guidance at home."
Kansas City, Kan., police Chief Tom Dailey said more and more juveniles are getting into trouble in his city, especially young car thieves and youth gang members. He said vehicle thefts jumped by 1,000 this year in his city, compared to 1989.
"We've got the same thing here," said Perry Anderson, chief of police in Miami, Fla. "They're active in auto thefts and burglary. We arrest them, then they're right back on the streets again.
"We just don't have the space to house them."
Juvenile thieves are the least of Chicago's worries, with more serious offenders occupying officers' time, said police Detective Lt. Howard Allen of Chicago's youth section.
"They probably wouldn't even get into a secure facility," he said. "Maybe if they had eight to 10 charges against them and the facility wasn't full, but usually not."
Most of the youths who go to jail or prison are charged with violent crimes like robbery, arson and rape, Allen said.
Chuck Gruber, president of the police chiefs group, said the conference is the best chance for police from around the world to compare notes and share techniques.