Kids on the Loose

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

Driving around Rockford's streets late at night, you might be surprised at how many unsupervised kids you'll see.
Rockford Police Officer Jesse Washington says, "Some kids are just hanging out just to hang out, some are a little bit more mischevious than others. Then you got those ones that are just up to trouble."
Police say teenagers are behind four of the nine homicides in Rockford this year, including one just Sunday night. Teens also account for a staggering 40 percent of this year's gun crime arrests.
"We've seen more in the last year and a half with youngsters, young people being charged with homicide, murder, aggravated battery with the use of a firearm than I've ever seen in my whole career," says Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson.
That's why the men and women in blue have stepped up their vigilance on Rockford's young.
"We have specific officers set to do nothing but drive around the city of Rockford to see if you can locate kids that are out past curfew," explains Officer Washington.
For kids under 18, curfew is 11 P.M. on weekdays, midnight weekends. Since police can't be everywhere at once, they're asking parents to keep better track of what their kids are up to after dark.
One Rockford teen, Andrew Leutik, out bowling with this friends says his parents know where he is right now, but he does not always keep them up to date.
Many kids are used to fielding a barrage of questions from their parents.
Whenever Tyrell Demarioe King steps out the door, he hears, "Where are you going, what time you be back and how long is it going to take you to get there."
But parents don't always get truthful answers.
"Sometimes if I'm going to a place I shouldn't be and they know that I'll tell them I'm going somewhere else and that way I can go where I want to go," says teenager Bill Schlagel.
Epperson says building trust is the only way to make sure your child really is at the bowling alley, not off getting wrapped up in alcohol, drugs or gangs.
Says Epperson, "There needs to be a cohesiveness between the parent and the child and they need to develop that strong bond to know what they're doing."
Kids used to have to fight their parents to get a cell phone, but now many moms and dads say mobile phones are the number one way they keep track of their children.
"My mom gave me the cell phone, she told me to call her like if we leave somewhere and tell her where we at," says Marquell Reddic.
Rockford mom Jacqueline Kidd adds, "My daughter has a cell phone. I call her every half hour to the hour, questioning where are you, let me speak to the mom."
Kids may find constant phone calls annoying, but most still count on being able to call mom and dad when they need it most.
"One time I told them I was going somewhere else and then I went to Wisconsin and they had to come bail me out of jail," says Schlagel.
Nicole Brazelton says, "I went to a party and there was a lot of drinking and I wasn't comfortable. She didn't know where I was at. I called her, she rescued me, she smacked me in the backside of the head and told me not to do it again."
Police say parents, law enforcement and our entire community need to unite to make sure our young kids aren't falling into trouble.
I most often spotted kids hanging out on street corners, front stoops or in parks. Police say that's common when it's too hot to stay indoors and it makes kids harder to track down and more likely to get in trouble.
Police are enforcing curfew more strictly now. Kids caught breaking it are arrested, then taken home and released to their parents. They're usually given community service, though chronic violators can face stiffer penalties.


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