LAST SUNDAY, The Post reported on a high-speed car chase earlier in the week that ended with the arrest of seven juveniles, ages 12 to 17. They joined the ranks of about 5,200 other juvenile joy riders who stole cars in the District last year. Their performance stands in sharp contrast to the promises Mayor Anthony A. Williams made last year to curb kiddie car thieves in the nation's capital.
According to police, the 13-year-old driver of the fleeing vehicle has a history of auto theft arrests. That he was accompanied by a 12-year-old makes the crime all the more remarkable. And the seven youths weren't alone in the van. Two unloaded handguns and ammunition were also found in the crashed vehicle. Unfortunately, this is a depressingly familiar story that the public had been told would soon become a thing of the past.
One year ago, Mr. Williams went to a Southeast community where juvenile joy riders and car thieves were having a field day. Referring to six youths in a stolen car that had crashed into a Northeast home earlier in the day, Mr. Williams declared, "Tonight, we are facing a crisis in our city." He touted legislation that would get at the heart of juvenile crimes. One year later, juveniles continue to use District streets as their personal speedways. And if parents are being held responsible for the actions of their children, it is the best kept secret in the city.
Yet that is exactly what the Omnibus Juvenile Justice Act of 2004 was supposed to help accomplish. As the mayor said at last November's bill signing with D.C. Council members and community leaders looking on: "We need to put a stop to the problem of juveniles stealing cars and using them as deadly weapons." The act, he promised, contained a comprehensive approach to address juvenile car theft, including "tougher laws as well as the increased intervention of human services to provide alternatives for young people." A key selling point in the law was a requirement that parents and caretakers participate in the rehabilitative process and that they be held accountable for the supervision of their children.
Last week's police chase and crash are the latest example of the city's juvenile auto thieves making a mockery of laws on the books. Or is it the other way around? Could it be that city agencies -- cops, caseworkers and the courts -- aren't taking the new law and delinquency cases seriously?