Madison Police Chief Mike Koval blogs frustrations

Chief Mike Koval's blog for Tuesday, October 16-

Over the past several months, this daily blog has increasingly chronicled juveniles engaged in serious, illegal behavior(s).  Weapons offenses, stealing cars and operating them recklessly, brazen burglaries, robberies, and sexual assaults are among the litany of crimes that have generated fear and apprehension in our community. 

MPD has certainly heard from constituents about their collective angst and I can assure you that our cops share in those sentiments.  As I have noted before, MPD has spent considerable time and resources in our attempts to prevent, investigate, and arrest juveniles engaged in criminal behavior.  Regrettably, the juvenile "justice" system is not responding to the issues at hand and we see a plethora of reasons why it is failing.  The judges will tell you that they do not have enough dispositional options available for consideration; there is a paucity of programs, mental health resources cannot keep up to the demands, and there is  a lack of suitable placement alternatives (i.e., State-operated Lincoln Hills has been shut down).  The Juvenile Reception Center (JRC) and the Dane County Shelter are at capacity.  "Home detention" and GPS monitoring have not met standards of reliability in the eyes of our front line guardians.   School-related disturbances and inappropriate behaviors have become all too commonplace.   Gang membership is on a trajectory climb as well.  Is it any wonder that constituents and practitioners alike are frustrated???

At a recent meeting of practitioners, I listened to many earnest discussions with well-intentioned subject matter experts expounding upon the need for more relationship building with at-risk youth, timely interventions, fortifying existing programs while instituting even more topical and comprehensive initiatives that can get to the root causes of why a juvenile makes bad/reckless choices.  Additionally, it is encouraging to see a greater recognition for how many of our young people have been dealing with trauma-based exposures since the beginning of their lives. . .which necessitates more training for teachers, social workers, mental health specialists and cops.  All of these discussions are evidence-based, insightful, and will better inform decision making on how best to invest time and resources over the long haul.  I unequivocally support these good faith attempts as a means of preventing and interceding before small matters becomes big issues with criminal justice ramifications.

But the one thing I haven't heard enough discussion about are the needs of the victims of crimes caused by juveniles?  What about accountability?  When a 59-year-old mom is leaving work at 10pm at night and is jumped, thumped, and her car/keys/purse are taken from a trio of juveniles---only to have her family's car subsequently totaled later in the morning--who is speaking up on her behalf? Quite frankly, at this point in time, I am NOT preoccupied in looking at what "caused" these youths to transgress the law, I am more inclined to ask what the consequences will be for the behavior (assuming due process and an adjudication of delinquency)?  While I endorse community-based restorative justice initiatives, I draw the line at serious, felony behaviors.  Furthermore, victims need to stay empowered in making decisions on how to proceed with the management and prosecution of cases that do not (and should not) qualify for diversion from the criminal justice system.

By way of a short history lesson, Wisconsin's former Children's Code underwent a period of significant change in the mid 1990's.  The enactment of chapter 938 marked a clear change in the way Wisconsin views its children.  By situating the new Juvenile Justice Code (Chapter 938) immediately before the Criminal Code (chapters 939-951), the legislature signaled its intent to treat young offenders with a greater degree of accountability, with an emphasis on the protection of society from juvenile crime.  While I still believe that the first steps in dealing with wayward youth is to "treat" rather than "punish," to keep families together by providing needed services, to remove children from the home only when absolutely necessary and to incarcerate kids only as a last resort, the legislative intent of Chapter 938 seems to have been lost somewhere in the translation here in Dane County.  It is time to address juvenile behaviors that not only embrace what's in the best interests of the child, but acknowledges and acts upon ensuring the safety of our community as well.

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