Nation/World

Juvenile Crime On The Rise Police Blame Habitual Offenders For Most Of The Problem

Police busted more juveniles in Spokane last year than ever before. The crime the kids committed the most?

Theft.

“A lot of shoplifting, mostly,” said Gary Kuntz, a crime analyst who compiled the report for the Spokane Police Department. “It was by far the highest.”

There were 1,787 juvenile arrests for theft in 1994. The second most numerous crime committed by youths was assault, which accounted for 765 arrests.

The numbers are particularly disturbing because total arrests in Spokane went down by 1,049 from 1993, Kuntz said. Officials attribute the decrease in overall arrests to community-oriented policing, which allows officers to meet and work more with neighbors.

Officer Jack Pearson, who works in the Crimes Analysis Unit, said the strategy helps residents solve many neighborhood problems on their own; officers and citizens now spend more time on preventing crime and making communities safer.

The message may not be reaching juveniles, though. The number of youths being put behind bars has climbed steadily over the past three years.

In 1994, a total of 5,184 juveniles between the ages of 8 and 17 were arrested - an increase of 11 percent from the previous year.

“Aggravated assault, robbery, burglary - all of that, they’ve all gone up,” Kuntz said.

“It tells me that the level of violence among juveniles is increasing.”

With certain crimes, youths in Spokane are just as active as adult lawbreakers. Nearly half of all burglaries, arson, vandalism, weapons charges and thefts in Spokane last year were committed by juveniles.

And they outpaced adults by more than 20 percent in one crime - taking a motor vehicle without permission.

Kuntz said he believes habitual juvenile offenders are to blame for most of the arrest numbers.

“Lots of kids get arrested once, and you never hear from them again,” he said. “But lately, with the increase, my guess is the same kids are being arrested for the same crimes time after time, again and again.”

Three times in 18 months, however, Spokane County voters have turned down a tax increase that would have expanded the overcrowded Juvenile Detention Center.

The $11 million bond would have added 38 beds, allowing the jail to lock up 900 more juveniles a year.



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