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Juvenile crime up slightly

by Merrie Leininger

Douglas County juvenile crime figures rose slightly in 1997, but property crime statistics dropped, according to Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Scott Cook.

The good news is the crime figures are not rising in proportion to the growth in the county and the community as a whole is taking more interest in preventing juvenile crime, Cook said.

While the overall growth in the county has slowed down, Cook said, the 7th-12th grade age group the Juvenile Probation Office deals with is staying the same.

“We still have the same amount of people and juvenile crime hasn’t grown in proportion to the population,” Cook said.

– The numbers. Property crimes made a big drop this year.

“The biggest thing that has gone down is property crimes,” Cook said. “It has been dropping since 1993.”

In 1996 juvenile detention saw 264 property crimes and in 1997, only 208.

Total crimes went up slightly from 1,401 to 1,424. But those who are convicted spend much more time completing court-ordered community service work and paying restitution. Community service hours dramatically increased from 2,929 to 4,078 while the number of juveniles performing community service increased from 533 to 589.

Restitution paid also made a huge jump from $17,308 to $34,785.

Cook said he believes more students are being arrested in drug-and alcohol-related crimes and crimes against people because more victims are reporting crimes against them and parents are more aware they can get help from the juvenile probation office in disciplining their children.

“There are more areas in the community parents can find help and they are more apt to seek help,” he said. “The judges are more aggressive, parents are taking more interest in knowledge about disciplining their child; there is more awareness. Obviously, we have a long way to go, but it seems like the baby boomers are much more aware about that sort of thing, which helps.”

Cook said the Douglas County School District is making students more accountable for their crimes.

“The school district has been very aggressive, especially about batteries and a lot more are getting referred to us,” Cook said.

He also credited the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in keeping a watchful eye on the youth of the Valley.

“It’s a small town and if you do something wrong, there’s a good chance you’ll get caught. The Sheriff’s Department does a real good job,” he said.

The community does a good job of keeping students off the streets and that prevents some of the property crimes, he said.

“There are a lot of positive programs in the community between the school, the recreation department and other organizations like Teens with a Future; they are taking effect,” Cook said.

n Finding solutions. The office itself has seven JPO officers handling about 100 kids. Cook said that number is down from a couple of years ago when they were dealing with 125 students.

Juveniles stay on probation indefinitely. Cook said they are usually discharged once they finish all the requirements of their probation, which could include paying restitution, writing a letter of apology to the victim or completing a drug treatment program.

Drugs and alcohol are the biggest problems among students in the Carson Valley, Cook said.

Drug offenses went up from 109 in 1996 to 121 in 1997. Alcohol offenses went up from 94 to 136.

Methamphetamine and marijuana are readily available to juveniles in the Carson Valley, he said.

“Meth is cooked up so easily. As soon as we find one source, another source pops up. We have to dry up the need,” Cook said.

Cook said a coalition of JPOs from Carson City, Lyon, Churchill, Soreyand Douglas counties is working together to build a public drug and alcohol treatment center at Silver Springs , Nevada, because the biggest problem for families is finding a treatment program they can afford.

The Legislature has approved $28,000 to build the center, he said.

“People who have good insurance can get into good drug programs, but if not, they have more of a problem,” he said.

The program they have in mind would be designed as a 30- or a 60-day residential program especially for kids.

“A lot of time we send them to programs that are more geared towards adults and there is less success,” he said.

n Probation office. In house, Douglas County offers a weekly group counseling session that deals with impulse control and the counselor sometimes works with families one-on-one.

The outdoor education program also helps the officers get to know the juveniles better by observing them with their peers for a long period of time. A counselor takes the students on hiking, camping, skiing and white-water rafting trips.

“It also allows kids to see good decision making and how to handle it when things don’t go right,” he said.

Cook said the teen court at the high school won’t take away business from JPO at first, but he hopes they will be able to change some behaviors.

“As it grows and they gain confidence, it will (help) because it will be good prevention. (The peer court) will stop actions before it escalates,” he said.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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