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Broken: On the front lines of TN's juvenile justice system

Posted: 5:55 AM, Oct 31, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-06 08:36:29-05
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An unprecedented NewsChannel 5 investigation, airing throughout November, pulls back the curtain on Tennessee's broken juvenile justice system.

As part of that months-long effort, the NewsChannel 5 Investigates team hit the streets with members of the Metro Nashville Police Department's juvenile crime task force, riding with officers as they scoured the city looking for kids in stolen cars and kids with guns.

An exclusive online documentary, "Broken: On the Front Lines," is streaming right now on the NewsChannel 5 app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV as well as in the video above.

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"When we hit the streets, it's simple: we don't want any community member becoming a victim of violence so we're going to try to get as many youth off the streets, possessing guns and stolen vehicles, as possible," said Lt. Blaine Whited, who heads the task force.

The juvenile crime task force was formed in February 2018 in response to an upsurge in crime across the city and surrounding counties involving suspects as young as 12.

Police determined a common thread among those crimes was that juveniles often began their crime sprees by stealing cars, which is why the task force patrols the city with stolen cars being a primary focus.

Whited calls auto theft a "gateway crime."

"They'll start with auto theft and then it just seems to escalate," Whited said. "It will almost immediately go to a violent crime, such as robbery, carjacking, aggravated assaults and, worst-case scenario, homicide."

It's a search that takes officers into Nashville's most violent neighborhoods on a nightly basis.

During one operation at the J.C. Napier housing projects, task force members heard gunfire and raced toward the shots to apprehend a suspect who was shooting in the middle of the neighborhood.

"Six, seven, eight police officers here, and right next to us they are shooting each other," Whited noted.

To avoid dangerous high-speed pursuits, the juvenile crime task force works with the Metro Police aviation unit.

NewsChannel 5's cameras were along for the ride as the department's Air One helped officers capture a repeat offender in a stolen car.

That offender was released back to the streets just three hours after police arrested him.

Throughout November, NewsChannel 5 Investigates will expose serious problems in Tennessee's broken juvenile justice system and how it's failing not only our community, but the children themselves.

Among the key findings of the investigation:

  • In a revolving door, the system puts violent juvenile offenders back out on the streets again and again.
  • State laws fail to give judges the tools they really need to address the real problems of juvenile crime.
  • Children are sometimes being detained in conditions that may make them more violent.
  • Police are expected to solve problems that really need a community-wide effort.

In the end, NewsChannel 5 plans to highlight several programs that are working and how there's hope that, given the right commitment, this "Broken" system could eventually be fixed.

Special Section: Broken

Videos also available on NewsChannel 5's app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV