County crime stats show significant decline
The number of juvenile offenders charged with all levels of crime showed a major decrease in 2013, according to information released earlier this week by the Dakota County Attorney’s office.
The report indicated that the number of juvenile offenders charged with all levels of crimes decreased from 1,498 in 2012 to 1,119 in 2013. Of that number, 955 or 85 percent, involved misdemeanors.
The number of juvenile offenders charged with felony level crimes decreased from 134 in 2012 to 111 in 2013.
The report was also good news for Hastings. Its number of juvenile offender charges decreased from 97 to 69, or about a 40 percent decrease. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said the county experienced a decrease in the overall number of juveniles prosecuted for all levels of criminal acts. All cities and the Dakota County Sheriff’s Department reported decreases in numbers, with the exception of Mendota Heights where the numbers increased by 2 – from 13 to 15.
“With the exception of last year, we have seen a steady decrease in the number of juveniles charged with felonies each year, which is remarkable given our size and growth over the last decade,” he said. “I am proud of the great work being done in our schools, law enforcement and community organizations and partnerships we have developed to address these youth issues.
“We have also implemented a number of prevention and early intervention programs. I believe this commitment to addressing youth problems quickly and proactively is a direct reflection in the decline we have experienced in the last decade in the numbers of juveniles charged with crimes in our community.”
There were 261 juveniles charged with violent offenses in 2013. The most common violent crime committed by juveniles was misdemeanor assault — 216. Other violent crimes charges includes dangerous weapons, 18; sex offenses, 14; terroristic threats, 9; robbery, 2; and criminal vehicular homicide, 2.
Prevention, early intervention
Prevention of juvenile crime has been a long-time priority for Backstrom, who is a member of the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national organization committed to informing policy-makers and the public about the importance of youth crime prevention and early intervention programs efforts. He is also the chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee for the National district Attorneys Association.
His office coordinates a number of youth accountability programs for first-time offenders involved in the illegal use of alcohol, small amounts of marijuana and lower-level property crimes. A more intensive program for second-time users of alcohol or small amount of marijuana is also available.
In 2013, 798 juvenile offenders were referred to various accountability programs as an alternative to juvenile court.
“Youth accountability programs are designed to appropriately deal with youth who commit certain first or second time non-violent offenses,” said Backstrom. “These youth are held responsible for their criminal behavior outside of the criminal process.”
Each involves a parent or guardian and focuses on education and prevention. For most youth accountability programs, the youth must pay the cost of attending, pay restitution, do community work service, write letters of apology and complete a variety of other sanctions.
The Peer Court program operated in seven high schools last year, including Hastings. Teens serve as jurors and become personally involved in resolving the problem of juvenile crime in their community.
Backstrom also continued his anti-bullying initiative, which he began during the 2002-2003 school year. To date, more than 18,000 students, staff and parents have viewed and heard the presentation. There is an increasing emphasis on the use of technology, he said.
“Making good choices about sending a text message, email or other form of technology is very important for teens today,” he said. “Educating students on the potential dangers of bullying, harassing or aggressive behaviors and the dangers associated with ‘sexting’ and how this conduct could lead to criminal charges is important in our efforts to keep our kids safe.”