Juvenile arrests in Longview drop, but crimes more serious
By Sarah Thomas firstname.lastname@example.org
June 29, 2013 at 11 p.m.
The arrest of a 16-year-old Longview youth in connection with the ambush-style slaying of a former Kilgore College football player a year ago typified a trend in juvenile arrests - fewer, but for more serious crimes.
According to reports issued this past week by the Texas Department of Public Safety, 7 percent fewer Texas juveniles were arrested in 2012 than in 2011. At 17 percent, the reduction in juvenile arrests from 2011 to 2012 was even more striking in Longview.
However, said Gregg County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Becky Simpson, those numbers may be deceiving.
"The seriousness of the offenses has not diminished," she said.
An offender is considered a juvenile from 10 up to 17 years old.
The Uniform Crime Reports issued this past week tracked seven crimes - murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny theft and vehicle theft. Simpson said juvenile offenders are responsible for crimes in each category.
Deion Frazier Reed first appeared in court when he was 16, charged with murder and aggravated robbery in connection with the May 15, 2012, shooting death of 23-year-old DeAundray Rossum, who police say was ambushed in the parking lot of Signal Hill Apartments on Longview's south side.
Reed, now 17, remains in the Gregg County Jail awaiting trial on bonds totaling $500,000.
Simpson said the most disturbing trend she's seen in her courtroom is juveniles charged with sex assaults.
"We have a shocking number of juveniles committing aggravated sexual assault of children," she said. "The victims are 3 or 4 years old."
In 2011, Longview police arrested one juvenile on charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child. In 2012, police arrested four juveniles on the same charge.
And although Simpson can't explain the phenomenon, she said there is hope for juvenile sex offenders.
"A child who has perpetrated (a sexual offense), if they receive the proper treatment, statistics show they can be rehabilitated. Those numbers do not hold out with adults," she said.
The reports also show juvenile arrests spiked in 2003 and 2004 but have steadily declined during the past eight years. In 2004, more than 153,000 juveniles were arrested across the state. In 2012, 92,164 juveniles were arrested statewide.
The Longview Police Department arrested 366 juveniles in 2012. That number was down from 2011, when 446 were arrested.
So far this year, Longview police had arrested 222 juveniles. The data shows the crimes most often committed by Longview juveniles were assault (including family violence), disorderly conduct and shoplifting.
Why fewer arrests?
Neither Simpson nor Erin Yohn, spokeswoman for the Gregg County Juvenile Probation Department, could explain why juvenile arrests were declining locally or statewide.
But, Yohn said, one reason could be that more programs are available, including counseling for sex offenders, anger issues and residential placement.
"Would I like to think that's working? Yes. Is it? Sure, I like to be an optimist," she said.
Simpson, who has worked with juvenile offenders for 15 years, said the system is working more effectively and efficiently to rehabilitate rather than punish.
Part of that process, she said, is determining why the child is in trouble.
"A lot of times it has to do with what is going on with the parents," she said.
In juvenile court, judges have jurisdiction over parents as well as the offender, and Simpson said she must often must sanction parents for their role in the child's deviant behavior.
"We have parents who do drugs. We have parents who are alcoholics. We have parents who just aren't parenting," she said, adding she requires parents in those cases to submit to drug tests, seek treatment and attend parenting workshops.
"On the flip side of that, we sometimes have parents who are doing everything right and their child is in trouble," she added.
Simpson credits the county's abundance of community-based programs such as the Parenting Resource Center, WellnessPointe, Community HeatlthCore and the East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse for their roles in the rehabilitation of child offenders and their parents.
"We try to divert criminal activity before they reach adulthood and become adult criminals," Simpson said. "Some kids I see in juvenile court, I later see in adult court."
The state funds the majority of the Gregg County Juvenile Detention Center and the Gregg County Juvenile Probation Department's $2.9 million operating budget, while the county picks up the slack, according to Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt.
"Two thirds is funded by the state. We pick up the other third," he said.
Probation officer salaries, counseling and GED programs as well as drug testing are included in the $2.9 million price tag.
It costs about $4,000 per year for each child who enters the system, Stoudt said.
The number of juveniles on probation in Gregg County declined from 393 in 2011 to 342 in 2012. So far this year, 214 juveniles have been sentenced to probation.
Yohn said there is no way to know what the remainder of 2013 holds for the juvenile system regarding how many offenders will enter the system and the crimes they will commit.
"It's a crap shoot. We see everything from Class B misdemeanors to your felonies like aggravated assaults and aggravated robbery," she said.
Another trend shows more girls being charged with crimes, though boys still out-populate Simpson's docket, the Gregg County Juvenile Detention Center and the probation department's caseload.
According to Yohn, that caseload runs 65 to 75 percent male and 25 to 35 percent female. The biggest age group committing offenses is 13 to 16 years old.
"A female defendant was rare," Simpson said about her early days on the bench. "That is not the case anymore."
Girls are committing thefts, assaults and burglaries, she added, but not to the extent of boys.
"The criminal justice system is never going to be 100 percent successful at rehabilitation," Simpson said. "That doesn't mean we should stop trying."