Independence sees big increase in youth crime

INDEPENDENCE -- Law enforcement officials encounter spikes and dips in criminal activity on an annual basis. Sometimes there's an explanation, sometimes not.



INDEPENDENCE -- Law enforcement officials encounter spikes and dips in criminal activity on an annual basis. Sometimes there's an explanation, sometimes not.

Independence Police Department hopes an early 2011 trend is an anomaly.

Officers have made 125 juvenile arrests for theft, disorderly conduct, truancy and other offenses between January and April 20. That's almost 40 percent more than during the same period in 2010.

They've also noticed that more incidents are involving youths somehow linked to drug possession, use and even sales.

"It's one of those cycles," said Detective Tino Banuelos. "And I know our school resource officer has been busier than normal."

Some of the statistical change stems from minor crimes. For example, police responded to a combined 42 criminal mischief and curfew incidents during the first four months of 2011. That's four times the amount seen the prior year in those categories.

Banuelos said he believes the increase comes from a small, particularly "active" group of juveniles. He knows of one instance where two or three youths racked up several charges in one evening this winter.

"I don't refer to this as Independence kids gone bad," he said.

But it's not being taken lightly, either.

Tim Ragan, school resource officer for Talmadge Middle School and Central High, said he had the dubious honor of having more arrests for the month of March -- 18 -- than his fellow patrol officers just by operating within two buildings.

Ragan said he's had more drug-related run-ins with kids this year than in the past three.

"I've had kids on drugs, selling drugs to other students in and outside of the schools," he said. "Some are comfortable enough to make a discreet transaction in the middle of class ... that's happened."

On March 7, a motorist traveling in the 1300 block of C Street broke up a fight between two males; the aggressor, a 14-year-old male, accused the other boy of smoking all of his marijuana.

That same suspect was charged with theft by extortion on March 17. According to police, his victim tried to buy $100 worth of pot to hand over to the boy to avoid being assaulted.

"You say extortion and you think organized crime," Ragan said. "Even the parents of the kids involved were taken totally off guard."

Ragan's position at the schools is being eliminated next year because of district budget cuts.

Ragan said the best advice he could offer citizens about dissuading juvenile offenses is being aware of suspicious behavior. Random calls, for example, have helped him head off fights between youths beforehand.

"We don't see and hear everything," he said. "We depend on citizens to let us know what's happening and to make this town livable."



Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment