Program keeps high-profile juvenile offenders under close watch
Police and prosecutors say a program that monitors prolific juvenile criminals in the county is helping them get a handle on juvenile crime.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Plasma television sets, iPods, video-game consoles, guns and liquor vanished from homes across Seattle this summer.
Seattle police say they are always busy investigating property crimes during the months that teenagers are out of school. But one burglary detective said this summer was a little slower than many he can recall.
Detective Nick Bauer attributes a lighter caseload to a recent push by police and prosecutors to focus time and resources on the county's most prolific juvenile offenders.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said the High Impact Offender Unit targets juveniles with the greatest number of arrests to ensure their cases are handled aggressively in court. Satterberg said the program is modeled after the agency's highly successful crackdown on car thieves.
"It [the juvenile unit] was created so we could work more closely with the police to identify juveniles who were either engaged in a spree of criminal activity or were worthy of our attention," Satterberg said.
Police and prosecutors so far have targeted about 30 youths with the program, Satterberg said. Several of these teens have received the harshest juvenile sentence possible — incarceration until they turn 21.
"While it seems we are being tough on the kids, it's a bit of tough love," Satterberg said. "It gives the community a break from an out-of-control teenage criminal."
Bauer said he and prosecutors created the High Impact Offender Unit in 2005 "as a way to improve ways for communication between prosecutors and beat cops and solve juvenile crime." It took awhile for the program to take off, but by this summer police and prosecutors started seeing its full effect, Bauer said.
Problem juveniles identified for the program are monitored by police and prosecutors, who work closely to get the troublemakers off the streets.
"There has always been an imaginary barrier between prosecutors and street cops," Bauer said. "It was just habit. Now the High Impact Offender program has opened communication."
According to data released by the Governor's Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee on Friday, juvenile arrests across the state have declined more than 30 percent over the past decade. In 1998, police arrested 53,827 juveniles; in 2007, they arrested 35,865. Since 2003, arrest rates have decreased 6.5 percent, according to the committee.
While King County saw an overall decrease of 5.5 percent in juvenile arrests between 2003 and 2007, arrest rates have increased slightly between 2006 and 2007. Figures for 2008 were not available.
State authorities say there is no evidence that the High Impact Officer Unit has played any role in the overall decline in juvenile crime.
"We believe Washington, for several years, has developed alternative ways of responding to juvenile criminal behavior," said advisory committee Chairman Paul Holland. "Nobody can claim any direct link between any program and any decline."
Proving their point
But King County prosecutors point to two cases — that of a 17-year-old Seattle boy and a now-18-year-old man.
The 17-year-old will stay in jail until he turns 20 for two burglaries and possession of stolen property, prosecutors said. In January, the youth stole electronics, including a 42-inch plasma television, car keys and jewelry, including an $820 Bulova watch and a $500 Tiffany necklace, from homes in Seattle and Lake Forest Park, according to court documents.
The teen's grandmother, who has raised him since he was 6, is confident the long sentence will help him straighten out. While she and her husband have given him a television, an Xbox and other things he wanted, she said he has always struggled because his parents were in prison.
"He had a lot of structure here and a lot of supervision," said the woman, who is not being named to protect her grandson's identity. "He was just running from his feelings. It was the adrenaline rush and having a lot of money in his pocket."
She said he is doing well and hopes to stay out of trouble when he is released from the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration's Green Hill School in Chehalis.
"I just hope he can get a goal and an objective in life. He has a good set of values, and he knows right from wrong and knows he did wrong," the woman said.
19 arrests for teen
The second teen has been arrested 19 times by six different police agencies and is also locked up until around the time he turns 20, prosecutors said. In February, just weeks before his 18th birthday, the Seattle teen knocked a stranger to the ground in downtown Seattle and stole the man's wallet, according to charges. This young man has juvenile convictions for reckless burning, burglary and attempted robbery, as well as several felony and misdemeanor assaults, prosecutors said.
Kent police Detective Brendan Wales said that when he selected one of the first Kent juveniles for the High Impact Offender Unit, he told prosecutors that the teen was beyond his parents' control.
Wales said police and prosecutors monitor youths in the program for where they go and the people they hang out with. Wales said that over the past six months he has recommended about six teens for the program.
"Clearly, hooking and booking is not working. This was going above what our normal thing is," Wales said.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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