Police cite youth programs in juvenile arrests decrease

BY AMY SKARNULIS | JULY 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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While police officials have seen an overall decrease in the number of juvenile arrests across Iowa, Iowa City police say programs targeted for youth have kept local teens out of trouble.

"I think it's probably the programs," Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said. "Maybe they've been charged once, and programs are getting into the juvenile courts that may be helping them make better decisions, so maybe they will not be charged again."

While the number of juvenile referrals has stayed fairly consistent in the last four years, Iowa City police saw a decrease from 526 referrals in 2009 to 459 in 2011.

Brotherton said drop in that number in part is because of the local curfew. At the end of 2009, the curfew was established under which children 13 or younger are required to be inside by 10 p.m., children 14-15 at 11 p.m., and children 16-17 at midnight.

"The point [of the curfew] is to keep them inside because [otherwise they are] out late at night doing nothing productive," she said, adding there are exceptions to the curfew.

According to the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning three-year report, juvenile arrests in the state of Iowa have decreased from 22,703 in 2007 to 18,064 in 2010 — a 20 percent decrease.

While some programs are aimed to help juveniles after they are referred, many other programs help youth before they get into any legal troubles.

John Tursi, the Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Rapids executive director, said its role is to prevent juvenile arrests.

"The whole idea is to get kids off the street and get them to a fun, safe, educational place to be," he said.

The Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Rapids sees 250 youth daily during the school year and around 300 during the summer.

Tursi said the club provides a variety of programs and activities, and the staff members want to make sure they have something for everyone.

"Our kids come from very economically deprived areas of town, and because of that, they don't know any differently," he said. "Their role models are their neighbors who are poor and in gangs."

Paul Stageberg — administrator for the Iowa Department of Human Rights' Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning — said the juvenile courts have moved abruptly toward using evidence-based programs in the past five or six years.

"They do a screening at the beginning of the process to see if this is a kid that needs to come into the court system or is this a kid that needs a warning and go home," he said.

Stageberg said outreach programs are just as important to juveniles who are making the transition to adult courts as juveniles who are entering the system for the first time.

Yet, he said, the amount of federal funding available to the juvenile system has dropped 85 percent in the past 10 years.

"So we are able to give less money to juvenile courts," he said. "My personal opinion is that it is shortsighted, and that's going to come back to bite us, but that's just the way it goes."

The Cedar Rapids police have similar local programs to keep juveniles out of trouble, which has affected the number of referrals in Cedar Rapids.

"Amazed was my first, initial response," said Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin, referring to the decrease in juvenile crime. "I was sure they had not gone down but they have, and our entire department was pleasantly surprised."

In 2007 the Cedar Rapids police saw 1,565 referrals; last year, the police had 1,157.

School resource officers have made trips to the public Cedar Rapids high schools since 2010 and police officials have noticed success in the program.

The school resource officers are a way to keep a line of communication between the schools and the police officials, Hamblin said.

She said they create activities with the kids in the public high schools and have monthly meetings with the school administrators.

"It's a holistic response," she said. "Not just a hit and miss."

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