July 29, 2003 at 4:28 PM EST - Updated June 23 at 5:15 AM
AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Police have seen a rash of crimes by children in recent months, including a 7-year-old boosted through a window by a brother and friends to steal a video game system.
The 7-year-old was the youngest burglar picked up this summer by Akron police.
"Particularly this summer, we have had a significant rash of burglaries that have been committed by preadolescents," said Lt. Ken Ball, who heads the police department's crimes-against-property unit.
In the past four months, police have traced nearly 140 burglaries and other property crimes to youths. The offenders often have been no older than 13.
Because children's ability to form criminal intent is questionable and because they're too young to lock up with teenagers, they often get a lighter punishment.
"There's nothing more frustrating than when a kid is back home before you have the paperwork done," detective Steve Null said.
Police say no weapons have been used in the youth burglaries, and there have been no injuries.
The kids work in groups or by themselves. They strike in the daytime, sometimes preying on their own neighbors.
"They know when folks are not home. They know when it's safe to go in," Null said.
The young burglars commit their crimes when their parents are at work, or they get permission to hang with friends who become their accomplices.
Older kids teach younger ones how to steal, police said.
Video games and game systems are the loot of choice, according to police reports. The burglars usually trade the goods among themselves or get older kids to sell them.
Sgt. Mike Cianciola handled the burglary involving the 7-year-old. After the boy told on his 10-year-old brother and 10- and 11-year-old friends, police learned that the children also stole from unlocked cars.
Cianciola said the group committed at least four property crimes.
In another case, a 12-year-old broke into the houses next door and took potato chips, pop and a turtle. Police said he called his mother at work, asked if he could have a turtle and then took his neighbor's.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)