Children under the age of 10 are committing crimes for which an adult would go to prison, one of the Wakefield district's most senior police officers has said.
Inspector Paul Sullivan today (Wednesday) said police were struggling to cope with a "new and emerging" problem of offending among young "out of control" children, with cases ranging from criminal damage to assault.
He said that, because the youngsters concerned were under the age of criminal responsibility, set at 10-years-old in England and Wales, they could not be prosecuted and were not being deterred as a result.
Insp Sullivan, who has responsibility for the south and east of the Wakefield district, warned that the problem was linked to the rising number of pupil exclusions from schools.
Read more: Why children are being expelled and where they are being expelled from
But he said that while there were systems in place to penalise and support older youth offenders, police didn't know how to deal with younger children because it was a new phenomenon.
Insp Sullivan also cited bricks being thrown at cars on Pontefract's Warwick estate in one recent example.
Speaking at a Wakefield Council scrutiny committee meeting, he said: "I'm talking about incidents involving under 10s, where if you or I had done them, we would go to prison.
"This isn't just a bit of inappropriate language, or not doing what they're told, we're talking about destroying things, and being wild and out of control.
"This is really high end stuff. We're talking about under 10s causing mayhem and yet there's not a lot we can do.
"All of this has consequences for them later if we can't intervene now, in that it will be harder for them to get jobs and to get their lives on track.
"It's not that these kids at that age have a criminal mind. For them it's a laugh and it's exciting."
Insp Sullivan said tackling the problem was made more difficult by a "fragmented" education system involving independently-run academies, which he said made it harder to chase information about children.
He also cited numbers published earlier this month, which showed 83 pupils of all ages were expelled from Wakefield schools during the last academic year - nearly treble the number that were expelled in 2009/10.
Insp Sullivan added: "Because all these schools are academies now and run by themselves we're finding it very hard to get information the way we used to get from one overarching authority.
"Some social workers weren't even aware that some of the kids they had responsibility for were involved in between 12 and 15 offences.
"As far as we're concerned these children should be in school. They should be in a controlled environment.
"We talk about 83 children who've been permanently excluded, but where are they? Who's managing them now?"