ST PAUL, Minn. — As carjackings continue to rattle the Twin Cities metro area, Tyrone Terrill likens his work in the community to a bank account.
"Like your bank account, you can't make withdrawals without making deposits," Terrill said. "We have to make a deposit of trust with these young men."
Terrill and his team of community navigators are playing a crucial role on the front lines of carjacking prevention in Ramsey County, which recently launched a Youth Auto Theft Intervention Project. As a respected leader and president of the African American Leadership Council, Terrill oversees two navigators working directly with young people most likely to commit these serious crimes, with the goal of steering them toward a healthier path.
So far, Terrill said about 60 such individuals have been identified through Ramsey County. His team has started meeting with at least 25 of them, helping them get jobs or even visiting a few that have already been detained for crimes. Terrill's three-person team also interacts closely with families at home.
"We know a third of the families personally. We've built a personal connection over the years with them. They've been really relieved, really acceptable and engaging, and wanting to work with us," Terrill said. "We've got to remove the stigma that we're part of the criminal justice system. We're not. We're trying to keep you from going deeper into the criminal justice system."
Anecdotally, there are signs of progress.
In St. Paul, for example, a police department spokesperson said carjackings have dropped about 40% so far this year, with 19 reported carjacking cases in 2022 compared to 32 at this time in 2021.
"We're not going to take credit for a 40% drop, but we can take credit that the majority of the individuals who are doing carjackings are on our caseload. And we've made contact with them," Terrill said. "We're trying to get them to understand that this is a mistake. Not only are you stealing someone's car, you are hurting people."
Terrill acknowledges that "we have a long way to go," pointing to the need for early intervention with the youngest kids in the community. Some of the recent carjacking suspects are as young as 12 years old, he said.
And the numbers tell a different story in neighboring Minneapolis, where police data shows a 41% increase in carjacking reports through the first three months of 2022. Police report 127 carjackings so far this year, compared to 90 at this time last year.
Overall, law enforcement agencies in Hennepin County have submitted 38 carjacking cases for review. More than half of those cases — 22, to be exact — involve adult offenders. Sixteen involve juveniles. That's a reversal of recent trends, which have shown juveniles are far more likely to be involved in carjacking cases, or at least those submitted to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.
In Ramsey County, Terrill has found that to be the case as well, which is why he's so focused on reaching young people as early as possible. He even wants families to know that they can call his team at any time (612-468-3811) if they're concerned a relative is going down the wrong path.
"We're just trying to build relationships with these young men to stop carjackings. How can we get them to do something else?" Terrill said. "They're playing Russian roulette with their lives."
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