Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Youth programs much better news than youth violence

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm with 5 Comments »
June 9, 2012 8:22 am

If you read the Trib on Monday, one story may have ruined your day. At least a little.

I refer to the horrific stabbing incident in East Tacoma involving three teenage boys. One of them, Hector Hernandez-Valdez, 15, died after being stabbed at least 34 times. The other two, Luis Arroyo, also 16, and his brother Cristobal, 14, were arrested and recently charged with first degree murder for their role in Hernandez-Valdez’ death. Allegations point to a robbery gone awry.

The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office – one of the nation’s best in my biased opinion – had the sobering task of charging 16 year old Luis Arroyo for Murder 1st degree in adult court. If found guilty, the teen could find himself in prison until his youth is little more than a memory.

And so, quite possibly, ends at least two young lives. This article is depressing enough that it makes the idea of a hiatus from informed society an appealing one. No more nightly news, no more morning newspaper, no more gory details.

I understand that rationale, believe me, but it does nothing to help address the problem of youth violence. Many young people struggle towards adulthood in a manner that can only be described as crisis management. In some cases, such as the tragic event in East Tacoma, that struggle ends very, very badly. Turning the TV off, cancelling the paper, even locking juveniles up until they are grey and old does not solve the problem for the kids who enter the criminal justice system every day.

It is ironic, isn’t it? Consider the billions of dollars spent annually on law enforcement, prosecution and incarceration – now consider the money that trickles into the programs that attempt to solve the problem of youth violence. Youth intervention and prevention programs operate on shoe string budgets and in relative anonymity. Could you name one?

I could mention several, but two recently came to my attention due to the level of support each receives from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. First is the 180 Program, a community-based partnering between community leaders in Seattle’s Rainier Valley and volunteers from the prosecutor’s office. The program identifies youth recently involved in misdemeanor offenses and gives them the option of attending a workshop in lieu of prosecution. This year alone 125 juvenile offenders were challenged and encouraged by residents and volunteers to make a 180-degree change in their lives. For some this may have been the first time an adult encouraged them to rise above the low expectations at-risk youth commonly see for themselves.

Supersonics Lacrosse/ Courtesy of the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office

The second program may be a strange fit for inner-city kids, but the Supersonics Lacrosse program (founded by prosecutors Hugh Barber and Mark Larson) brings more than just the sport to at-risk youth. The program, offered at no cost, consists of three practice and two tutoring sessions per week. It engages kids right after school until dinner time, effectively removing them from the time frame most consistent with youth crimes. Looking back to my days as a lacrosse player (way, way back), it probably kept me out of trouble as well.

Both of these programs, and many others as well, are great examples of an individual, an organization or a community deciding to help change the future for kids who have little hope for their own. I’ll bet there are some great stories there, ones that would not dim our spirits or make our hearts shrivel.

Haven’t we seen enough of the wrong kind?

Leave a comment Comments → 5
  1. rivitman says:

    Before I buy into this idea, I’m going to have to see some see some evidence of success other than anecdotal. I really don’t know how you quantify a result.

    You can play sports and do crime. The day is 24hrs long.

    Meanwhile, the county prosecutor seems to do a great job on high profile cases, but those are in the minority. I have personal knowledge of serious felonies, including firearm theft and Burg A being plead down to nearly nothing, totally missing the point of “Hard time for Armed Crime”. Multiple counts of firearm theft? Drop all but one. Burg A? Drop it to B. Skirt and evade the mandatory minimums any way possible.

    The county PO is playing catch and release, only to have the fish come back bigger and with more fight next time.

    But on juvenile crime. What’s changed? Well, the nature of the criminal.

    First, they grow up mostly unsupervised, in broken homes, without fathers, or bad examples of one. Or any combination of those factors.

    Next, they are more mobile via personal or public transportation. Then, we don’t employ and or enforce curfews. Then we program into them materialistic greed, misogynistic ideals, disrespect for society, the law, and each other, via popular “entertainment”. We give them a whole lot of freedom. While our schools totally fail to teach them ethics and morals. We tolerate their behavior because “it’s their culture”.

    Add drugs and gangs to the mix. Gang activity and doping are perceived as more fun. More cool. More tough.

    I don’t think youth sports can solve that unless kids value it more than the gangsta culture they are spoon fed daily. And there is no evidence on the whole, that they do.

    In short, simply occupying their time isn’t good enough. You have to change their minds. While they can still be changed.

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    If I could sum up the point of this column it would be, “You can’t arrest your way out of youth violence.” Period. Intervention programs are the ONLY option, and while some are better than others, many have an excellent track record with valid crime stats to prove it. Try funding these, however, and you’ll run into empty pockets.

    Your jab at the Pierce County prosecutor is a bit off the point, but worth addressing. Let me think on it.

  3. rivitman says:

    “many have an excellent track record with valid crime stats to prove it.”

    If you could point me to them, I’d appreciate it. Like I said, I’m unconvinced, but not UN-convincable.

    My comments on the Prosecutors office might need qualification. While what I stated IS actually happening, there may be reasons for it unrelated to willingness to prosecute, like the costs of jury trials, incarceration etc.

    The voters and politicians often vote overwhelmingly for tough anti crime laws and larger penalties. Then they are unwilling to vote the money to make them reality. As if everything past the arrest is cost free. Everybody seems to forget the Dept. of corrections and the county jails are integral parts of law enforcement, and deserve appropriate funding, AND staffing.

    So we may well have the level of prosecution we are willing to pay for. Nevertheless, crimes involving firearms, including theft of a firearm, or a felony while armed, should NEVER be plead down. Ever. As long as a suspect is charged appropriately, which the PCPA seems to do well.

  4. Chippert says:

    While intervention programs seem to be close to the crisis don’t forget the youth development programs out there that attempt to give the youth skills that prevent them from ever reaching that crisis. We are all familiar with the Boys and Girls clubs and it was an outright shame when the Eastside club closed its doors, eliminating that option in an area where their services were most needed. Of course there are the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts but those programs seem targeted to middle class youth and are not cheap to participate in.

    The Youth Development program I am most familiar with is the 4-H program, and it is probably the least understood and best kept secret. 4-H offers development of life skills to all youth regardless of economics. It does so by providing programs tailored to the interests of all youth. Interested in gardening? 4-H is there. Robotics? Computers? Dogs? Cats? Ecology? Yes, there are projects. In fact, there are projects available regardless of the interests of the youth. Want to learn to sing, perform, act? Yes, those too. Very little public money goes into these programs – mainly to support office space and expenses for one or two people in each county. But thousands and thousands of volunteer hours are put in each year along with countless dollars from the pockets of these volunteers. Recently though, this program is facing disaster. King County has eliminated the funding from its budget and 4-H will be no more there after October. It could happen here in Pierce County as well, where well over 14,000 youth were served in 2011.

    So, the choice is yours. A few dollars from your tax money to support intervention programs and development programs such as 4-H or thousands of dollars to deal with the aftermath of not having them.

  5. BlaineCGarver says:

    Held hostage by a bunch of punks pre-disposed to be criminals….wonderfull message to be sending.

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