Juvenile or adult? Law enforcement weighs not only age but severity of crime when determining how to charge teenage offenders

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According to detectives and reports from Apache Junction and Mesa, being aware of the local rules and being informed and involved are paying off with a minimal amount of juvenile arrests.

“Basically (we tell students) to think things through, think about the consequences of your decision and try to make smart decisions,” said Apache Junction Police Detective Marty Harshman.

Mesa Police Detective Steve Berry said that between 2010 and 2014, on average, juvenile numbers are lower in the summer months than the rest of the year for the city of Mesa.

According to the most recent Arizona’s Juvenile Court Counts report provided on www.azcourts.gov, in the state of Arizona there were a total of 33,617 juvenile referrals in 2012. Maricopa County accounts for 17,635 and Pinal County accounts for 1,683 of these.

A referral is the first step in the juvenile justice process, according to the Maricopa County Juvenile Probation Department. A referral is generated on a juvenile when a report is brought to the court alleging delinquent or incorrigible behavior.

“The things we have to be aware of and worry about are late-night activities. Oftentimes it’s curfews or other small things,” said Detective Berry. “It’s being out late at night that’s our concern.”

Curfew falls seventh on the top 10 referral categories statewide, with 2,117 referrals in 2012. According to the Maricopa County Juvenile Probation Department, 1,450 of those referrals were from Maricopa County.

The statewide top 10 referral categories are: shoplifting – misdemeanor, 5,240; probation violation, 4,996; alcohol, 4,110; runaway, 3,702; marijuana possession, 2,312; drug paraphernalia, 2,297; curfew, 2,117; truancy 2,040; domestic violence assault – misdemeanor, 1,757; and disorderly conduct, 1,540.

The top 10 referrals make up about 60 percent of the total referrals, according to the report.

The cities of Apache Junction and Mesa have their own laws about curfew. In Apache Junction, curfew is 10 p.m. for teens under the age of 14 and 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday for teens 14 and older and midnight on Friday and Saturday. In Mesa ages 15 and under must be inside by 10 p.m. and teens 16 and older must be inside by midnight.

“In the summer time we have a small increase of curfew violations and trespassing, where juveniles are jumping fences and going swimming,” said Apache Junction Patrol Division Capt. Troy Mullender. “Just minor stuff like that.”

Detective Berry said that underage drinking is always a concern, as well as maturity level and driving that gets teenagers into trouble.

“The later it gets, the more opportunity there is to get themselves into trouble or run into someone who is not a nice person who gets them into trouble,” said Detective Berry.
Detective Harshman said there is a difference in age when it comes to being arrested.

“Some of the seniors turning 18 years old, a lot of times we find that 17-year-old friends are getting sent home to their moms but 18-year-olds are being booked into jail,” said Detective Harshman.

In order to detain a juvenile in Pinal County, the police department has to submit information on the crime to the juvenile detention center that makes the decision if a teenager is arrested or not.

“We send our information to the detention center and they decide if there are grounds to be detained,” said Detective Harshman. “Often times they are sent home because their crime does not reach the threshold.”

Detective Berry said that depending on the severity of the crime, a juvenile can still be charged as an adult.

“If you’re talking about a 15- or 16-year-old who burns down a church, and a 17-year-old, depending on the circumstances they are facing being charged as an adult because of the crime,” said Detective Berry. “Same exact crime, same statute.”

The Maricopa County Juvenile Probation Department breaks down the juvenile justice system by showing that after a teen receives a referral, it will then go to the county attorney. From there, it can go in three directions: to early prevention, to juvenile petition or to being filed as an adult.

Depending on what route the referral goes determines if the suspect gets jail time, probation, a diversion program or even released.

Detective Harshman is also the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., officer for the city of Apache Junction. According to dare.org, the program is implemented in 75 percent of the nation’s schools and is in 43 countries.

Detective Harshman said the Apache Junction D.A.R.E. program targets students in fifth-seventh grades. The “big three” topics the D.A.R.E. program focuses on are drugs, alcohol and marijuana.

“That is a pivotal time where students are starting to have more freedom and spend more time at friend’s houses,” said Detective Harshman.

The 2012 Arizona Court System report states that juveniles referred by age shows that ages 8-9 account for 1.03 percent of all juvenile referrals; ages 10-11 account for 3.01 percent; age 12 accounts for 4.24 percent; age 13 accounts for 8.2 percent; age 14 accounts for 12.98 percent; age 15 accounts for 19.15 percent; age 16 accounts for 22.52 percent; age 17 accounts for 28.20 percent; and an unknown amount of referrals is .68 percent.

Lindy Marino, a crime prevention officer for the city of Mesa, said that leading up to the summer months, they want to remind homeowners to be more vigilant.

“We have brochures that we try to get out to the community about locking up their items during the summer time,” said Ms. Moreno. “When on vacation to make sure lights are on in the evening, and if you’re not home to use the timers in the evenings.”

The city of Mesa police department website states that parents can be fined up to $10,000 if their child is caught committing a graffiti-related crime, and the person caught doing the offense may also be fined up to $1,000, loss of driving privileges and criminal restitution.

Apache Junction also states that the Department of Motor Vehicles can suspend the driver’s license of a person who was convicted of a graffiti violation under the age of 18 or refuse to issue such license until the person’s 18th birthday.

According to the graffiti brochure provided online by the Apache Junction Police Department, graffiti is done, according to national studies, by youths whose ages range from preteens to early 20’s.

“There are a lot of good kids out there just trying to have fun and we get that,” said Detective Berry.

Reach staff writer Melissa Fittro at mfittro@newszap.com

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