Before imposing a policy as sweeping as zero-tolerance, consideration of youth rights and community safety demand of Niles Police Chief Rob Hinton a more thorough investigation and analysis of the root issues.
The juvenile court system has highly prized, since its inception in the United States 113 years ago, the care of the individual. It is inconsistent with that founding mission to make wholesale changes likely to ensnare some innocent teens within a punitive measure that, by definition, strips considerable discretion away from police officers.
Zero-tolerance policies, like all absolute statutes, are flawed because they cannot encompass every possible set of circumstances. However, by their very definition, they lack the corrective mechanisms that most laws include. Zero-tolerance policies provide no latitude for officers to decline to arrest a person the policy was not drafted to target.
The mantra of the first juvenile courts was the dual purpose of seeking the best interests of the child while equally protecting the wellbeing of the community. A few isolated property crimes, cannot justify a deprivation of liberty that will leave citizens no better off. Hinton’s zero-tolerance approach is a solution in search of a problem that will not eradicate the problem he seems to believe his new measures will eliminate.
The chief’s theory – that the problem of juvenile crime may result from young people staying at their peers’ homes without parental supervision – is not conclusive enough to justify such an all-encompassing, unilateral order.
If every law enforcement agency in every jurisdiction in the country funneled such a potentially grand number of status offenses into juvenile court, the system would be hopelessly clogged within weeks. Formal disposition of property crimes and status offenses should be deemphasized, not accentuated.
While I oppose the great majority of the aspects of Hinton’s ill-conceived decision, I salute him for identifying parental involvement as a key component of combating juvenile crime.
I hope the Niles juvenile curfew policy, enforced as Hinton has signaled he will, includes fines for parents who do not supervise their children, followed by jail time for those who continue to neglect their responsibilities.
Where parents fail, police, school staff, and the courts must fill the void. Indeed, the loss of a school resource officer is tragic, because such preventive measures allow law enforcement, schools, and the juvenile court system to be proactive rather than managing the fallout later.
However, if a school’s on-site police officer is to be an effective asset to preventing juvenile crime, the officer must be a resource at the school, not merely a resource to the school. As long as adolescents see a school resource officer as a “mole” – an agent of law enforcement, the courts, or the schools, the trust and rapport to promote positive change will not exist.
June 18, 2012 at 7:50 p.m.
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