Local juvenile apprehensions rank high

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 19, 1999

Youths in Freeborn County are being taken into custody more than their peers in most Minnesota counties.

Sunday, September 19, 1999

Youths in Freeborn County are being taken into custody more than their peers in most Minnesota counties.

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That’s the finding of Minnesota Planning, a state agency providing information about issues to policy-makers and the public.

The agency’s 1999 Children’s report card places Freeborn County fourth in juvenile apprehensions, with 87 per 1,000 juveniles in 1997.

Based on Bureau of Criminal Apprehension statistics, the report places Freeborn County behind first-place Mower County with 96 apprehensions per 1,000 youths. Koochiching and Winona counties rank second and third with 95 and 93 apprehensions.

According to the report, apprehensions involve &uot;the taking into custody of a person under age 18 by a law enforcement agency with the intention of seeking charges for a specific offense.&uot;

While the report places Freeborn County high on the list, with 24 apprehensions above average for every 1,000 juveniles, local officials state the numbers likely aren’t as troubling as they appear.

&uot;The study may make it look worse that it is,&uot; said Albert Lea Assistant Police Chief Dwaine Winkels.

He said the way crimes and apprehensions are reported can affect the results in comparative surveys, such as the Minnesota report card.

&uot;You can’t tell me some of these other counties aren’t experiencing the crime we are,&uot; he said.

Using a recent case of mailbox vandalism as an example, Winkels said local law enforcement agencies record each incident of vandalism separately. That means 91 cases.

&uot;Those three kids were arrested 91 times this year under those stats,&uot; he said of the recent arrests.

Other counties, however, might record the arrests as three, one per juvenile, he said.

Erin O’Brien, assistant Freeborn County attorney, agreed differences in record keeping is likely the cause of the high apprehension rate for local juveniles.

&uot;Either we have a lot of crime in small town Minnesota or we’re reporting things wrong or we’re reporting things more correctly,&uot; said the attorney in charge of juvenile cases.

Like Winkels, O’Brien said there are varying practices in recording apprehensions. She noted local law enforcement statistics don’t always match the numbers produced by prosecutors.

Still, she said there is a need to take the report card numbers seriously.

&uot;I believe this data should give us pause, but should be taken with our knowledge of our own community,&uot; she said.

She said local residents need to look at what is happening around them and consider whether or not they truly think juvenile crime is more prominent in Freeborn County.

&uot;It’s hard to believe we would place above Hennepin County,&uot; she said of the metro-area county ranking seventh on the report card with a recorded five less apprehensions per 1,000 juveniles.

In addition to differences in reporting practices, O’Brien said there are two other likely causes for the high local numbers.

&uot;We have more crime by juveniles than we should by population,&uot; she said.

Secondly, she said local authorities are likely catching more suspects.

Winkels and Freeborn County Sheriff Don Nolander agreed, noting police officers and deputies are active in trying to stem juvenile crime.

&uot;We have a youth service officer active in clearing crime in school,&uot; said Winkels, noting that likely helps drive apprehension numbers up.

Patrol officers are also actively looking for illegal alcohol consumption crimes, he said.

In 1997, liquor law crimes contributed to slightly more than a third of the 693 juvenile apprehensions reported.

Winkels said the zero tolerance stance in illegal consumption cases likely prompted those numbers.

&uot;The officers have less discretion today than they ever had,&uot; he said, noting civil liability means they take suspects to the law enforcement center instead of releasing them or escorting them home.

Second to liquor law crimes, 108 runaway cases helped drive the number of apprehensions up in 1997.

O’Brien said the number doesn’t surprise her.

&uot;We have a real runaway problem,&uot; she said. &uot;We have kids who have trouble with authority.&uot;

The third highest crime reported in the recent report card is larceny, which includes attempted or actual taking of property belonging to another person.

Winkels said the number of such apprehensions can be attributed to local merchants who actively seek to catch shoplifters and other criminals in their stores.

With increased security, he said the numbers are bound to go up.

&uot;Your chances of getting caught are higher,&uot; he said.

While they said juvenile crime is a serious local problem, O’Brien and Winkels said they still doubt if Freeborn County’s situation is that much different than other counties.

Winkels said talking to other law enforcement supervisors in the state shows that.

&uot;I don’t see us having any more of a problem than anyone else is having,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s all the same trends.&uot;