The burglaries have become so commonplace in some Fort Lauderdale neighborhoods, that city officials are pursuing new ways of dealing with the repeat juvenile offenders.

With a juvenile justice system that emphasizes rehabilitation over incarceration, residents of some Fort Lauderdale neighborhoods are tired of seeing the same teens break into homes again and again with little to fear if they are caught.

"In the '80s or '90s, it was crack cocaine drug sales out on the streets," said former Commissioner Tim Smith, whose Middle River Terrace neighborhood saw burglaries increase from 68 in 2012 to 117 last year. "That's basically gone. So now, kids that happen to be criminally intent seem to have found burglary as the new crime where they can get some free stuff."

Many of these juveniles commit the crimes while on probation or awaiting trial for prior burglaries, police say.

State data shows Broward has the highest percentage in Florida of chronic juvenile offenders, who make up almost a quarter of all teens referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice in the county, department spokeswoman Heather DiGiacomo said.


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Four Fort Lauderdale neighborhoods accounted for 31 percent of all home burglaries in the city last year, with more than 100 burglaries in each. Residents in two of those — South Middle River and Middle River Terrace — say juvenile offenders are driving the high numbers. The others are Lauderdale Manor and Melrose Park.

"It's very scary. I put guns in my room," said Pam Roloff of South Middle River, who feels fortunate because she's had only attempted burglaries. Her neighbor's home has been broken into eight times.

Roloff has an alarm system, padlocked fences, beware-of-dog signs and "an 80-pound poodle" with "a nice bark," she said. "He's very mean and the word is out in the neighborhood that he bites anything he sees."

Frustrated city leaders have been meeting with court officials, hoping to stem juvenile burglaries. As a result:

• They've offered to pay for electronic ankle monitors so probation officers can better track repeat offenders.

• They've asked for more late-night checks of teens on probation and have said they will make police available to probation officers doing the checks.

• They'd like to see more of the worst offenders transferred to adult court.

• They want someone checking to make sure teens are in school during the day — not roaming neighborhoods with criminal intent.

The teens "know there is no consequence," said Laura Croscenco of Middle River Terrace. "They break in. They steal your property. They will not fear to use a knife or anything."

Broward Circuit Judge Michael Orlando, head of the juvenile division, said the increased monitoring could help, but the courts still have to live within the rules set by the state Legislature.

"There's no one easy patch that's going to address a reduction in crime," he said.

For example, judges could start ordering chronic offenders to wear the ankle monitors, but that doesn't mean there are enough juvenile probation officers to adequately oversee the effort. One fifth of the current positions in Broward — 18 out of 87 — have been vacant for as long as three months because of high turnover, DiGiacomo said. She says most should be filled within the next month.

And the courts have little control over those awaiting trial, Orlando said. At most, judges can detain them or order electronic monitoring for up to 21 days pre-trial. That's insignificant because it usually takes nine months to a year for a trial to take place.

Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider, who oversees juvenile prosecutions, said her office is making prosecution of home burglaries a higher priority in order to get them to trial quicker. But there's only so much speeding up that can be done, as the defense has to be allowed time to take depositions.

Residents are hoping for solutions that will allow them to feel safe in their own homes again. In South Middle River, here is a taste what they've faced:

• In April 2013, police arrested a 16-year-old after finding his fingerprints at the scene of a burglary. The youth then admitted to four others, directing officers to the homes and providing details of the crimes.