Spokane County law enforcement gave Valley residents a crash course in youth violence Tuesday night.
Sheriff John Goldman, Prosecutor Jim Sweetser, Juvenile Detention Center Administrator Rand Young and sheriff’s detective Rick Van Leuven were among the speakers who addressed about 120 people at Evergreen Junior High.
The school’s assistant principal, Karl Ota, who also heads up Central Valley School District’s safety task force, said the large turnout attests to the community’s fear about youth violence.
“Two years ago, last year, there would’ve been five people here,” Ota said. “It’s getting violent out there.”
The evening was sponsored by the Central Valley PTA Council.
Van Leuven spoke about recognizing gang members - by the clothes they wear, the names they call themselves and the graffiti they paint on buildings all over Spokane. The sheriff’s department’s gang expert has given the speech at almost every Spokane County school.
Sweetser made a plea for more jail space, referring to the failed juvenile justice bond, which, if passed, would have built another detention center.
Only the most dangerous juvenile offenders are locked up now, he said, and the prosecutor’s office has a backlog of 1,500 cases.
“(The detention center) is only available for the worst of the worst,” Sweetser said.
Detention center administrator Young backed Sweetser up. More than half the young criminals arrested are released right away, he said. “It’s extremely demoralizing for law enforcement to see (the criminal) leave as fast as (the officer) does,” he said.
But Young offered some bright points. Of the 4,000 young people referred to the detention center each year, 70 to 80 percent never return, he said. Between 250 and 500 juvenile offenders are responsible for the bulk of the crime, he said.
And some programs do seem to be working, such as electronic monitoring and what he called a “mini boot camp,” in which offenders work during the day and are monitored electronically at night.
After listening quietly to all the speeches, the crowd erupted with frustration.
One woman asked why everything gets bogged down in the courts. Another wanted to know how far parents can go in disciplining their children. A third woman, after telling the crowd that her son had been surrounded at school by six youths with weapons, asked why something couldn’t be done to prevent children from being harassed in school.
There were no easy answers to those questions. “People want black and white answers,” Sweetser said. “But, the law cannot give black and white.”
Numerous people in the crowd and on the panel charged parents, not law enforcement or educators, with the task of disciplining their children.
Several others assailed the violence present in society - in the media, and in every person.’ ‘I would really like to put the burden on the violence in each one of us,” one man said.