Local Juvenile Crime Defies State’s Downward Trend

Posted at: 09/20/2013 6:51 PM
Updated at: 09/20/2013 6:52 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- According to a new report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, crime rates among juveniles have nearly returned to levels not seen since 1980.

But local officials say that while the overall numbers may be down, the severity of those crimes is only going up.

"We have a tendency to buck the trend in Mower County and that's exactly what we're doing," said Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi.

As arrest numbers continue to fall statewide, law enforcement officials across Southern Minnesota say they're not seeing such a dramatic drop-off.

“Locally we stay pretty stable,” said Steve King, director of Mower County Correctional Services. “Right now we have about 185 juveniles on supervision through our office, and over the past eight or nine years we've stayed stable.”

According to the most recent data, arrest totals have stayed relatively steady across Freeborn, Mower, and Olmsted counties, with only the types of crimes seeing a change.

“I wouldn't say that juvenile crime has increased per say; however the severity definitely has,” Sheriff Amazi said. “These juveniles aren't doing petty crimes, they're doing very serious crimes."

Sheriff Amazi said lately deputies have seen an increase in assaults, assaults with deadly weapons, major property damage, and other serious crimes.

But officials say that in order to understand the cause of the problem, they need to look beyond the kids themselves.

“It’s a crime issue,” King said. “Juveniles that we deal with seem to be stuck in an environment where surviving is what they want to do. They can't thrive."

“It all boils down to parents,” Sheriff Amazi said. “Parenting and lack of parenting. I think that is key to most of the issues."

Experts say that particularly in Mower County, high poverty, teen pregnancy, and dropout rates all create a climate more conducive to juvenile crime.

“Those three things are not causal to crime, but certainly correlational to crime,” King said. “And as long as those social norms continue to remain where they're at, we're going to continue to see some pretty decent rates of crime."

“It's a social issue,” Sheriff Amazi said. “And certainly there is no quick fix."