Oakland Tribune Editorial

by Roman Gokhman
November 16, 2006

For the last 10 years, juvenile crime in the United States has steadily decreased. The last time crime committed by those 18 and under began to climb was in the late 1980s. That spike turned into what researchers at a Chicago think tank said was a crime wave that peaked in 1994 before crime rates began to drop.

All of which is cause for concern, according to a new report released today by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, because for the first time in a decade, juvenile crime rose in 2005.

We had 10 years of good news, said Jeffrey Butts, a co-author of the report. The period of decline is over. That is concerning.

At the same time, Butts said, it is too soon to tell if this spike is the beginning of another crime wave. Locally, it is also not clear if juvenile crime is on the rise. Several law enforcement agencies reported a slight rise, while others reported a continued downward trend.

As our population increases, youre going to see it, said Rex Osborn, a crime prevention officer with the Manteca Police Department.He said that while there is a trend toward more juvenile crime in Manteca, it is because the city has doubled in population since the late 1980s, not because an of impending crime problem.

The report, which was compiled with FBI statistics, includes law enforcement jurisdictions that cover 73 percent of the U.S. population. It compared changes in juvenile crime rates from 2004 to 2005.

Most types of juvenile crime decreased — rape arrests were down 11 percent nationally, while larceny, vehicle theft and DUI arrests decreased by 9 percent.

But two types of crime — robbery and murder — were primarily responsible for the spike, according to the report. Juvenile robbery arrests increased 11 percent after a 44 percent decline over the last decade. And murder arrests jumped 20 percent after a 63 percent decline in the last 10 years.

While the 20 percent increase in murder arrests may seem large, Butts said, it reflects only 200 more arrests in 2005 nationwide. That number is much smaller on a local level.

It went from 1,100 to 1,300, he said. But 10 years ago it was 3,800.

Thats why a single major crime committed by juvenile in a small community — such as the arrest of Danville 16-year-old Andrew Mantas on suspicion of murdering his mother last week — should not be a sign that a crime wave is on the way.

Its time to watch the crime stats and be attentive — but theres no reason to expect a crime wave is inevitable, he said.

Several area law enforcement agencies reported that juvenile arrests continued to decline from 2004 to 2005.

In Livermore, arrests dropped by 10 percent, police Chief Steve Krull said. Krull said one of the major reasons is that rather than making arrests and taking youths through the judicial system, the department has referred them to intervention programs, such as Horizon Family Counseling.

It is good news, he said. We are arresting fewer people. You have got to find out what the problem is and treat the problem.

Juvenile arrests in Pleasanton dropped from 591 in 2004 to 461 in 2005. The only type of crime that increased in that span was assault with a deadly weapon — 11 last year compared to just four in 2004.

Juvenile arrests in Manteca went up slightly during that time: from 398 to 430.

Were seeing more juvenile crime, Osborn said. Were seeing more gang activity and more vehicle thefts.

Osborn said the Manteca Police Department also prefers to refer youth to intervention programs instead of jail.

According to the report, these types of programs, which are classified as youth development, civic engagement, and work force development, are the best way to prevent juvenile crimes before the criminals become more violent.

Tracy police did not have 2004 statistics readily available, but compared the first nine months of 2005 with the same time frame this year. The results: 142 arrests during that time last year and 133 so far this year. Tracy Police Chief David Krauss said that decrease mirrors the general drop in all crime categories in the city in 2006.

Crime statisticians will have to wait at least a year before they know if the 2005 crime spike is a fluke or a real danger.

There’s a lot of talk across the country about rising youth violence, Butts said. The answer is that its too soon to tell if a crime wave is inevitable.

Oakland Tribune 2006