CITY OF MOUNT
INITIATIVES AGAINST YOUTH VIOLENCE
1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.
The Mount Pleasant Police Department, with the total support of Town Government and the community, has adopted Community Oriented Policing as the primary philosophy of service delivery. Implementation began in 1992, and continued for three (3) years. The move to Community Oriented Policing has been total, with all members of the department directly involved and the community at large embracing this change in philosophy. When Good Housekeeping Magazine chose Mount Pleasant Police Department as one of the eight best police departments in the nation, in November 1996, the Departmentís success was recognized. Town government has not only supported this shift in policing philosophy, but also adopted many of the principles of Community Oriented Policing for all town-wide services, to the extent that the overall atmosphere has moved more toward the philosophy of Community Oriented Government.
One of the primary initiatives of the Mount Pleasant Police Department has been in the area of youth outreach. Juvenile crime and drug use throughout the nation are on the rise. Teens are victimized by all types of crimes at rates dramatically higher than any other age group. This teen victimization is one of the major problems of our society, and more specifically, the Mount Pleasant community. Since juvenile crime is on the rise, it also follows that more juveniles are being incarcerated for committing violent crimes. These juveniles generally already have repeated contacts with the system. Most of these early contacts are not serious violations, but are indicators that the particular youth needs to understand and experience reasonable consequences for his or her behavior and receive the guidance to change such destructive behavior patterns. The juvenile justice system is being inundated with a substantial number of less serious offenses, thereby overloading the system. Consequently, the system cannot provide the individual attention needed to prevent recidivism, nor does the system provide any real consequences for early, less serious offenses. Additionally, many teens today feel disenfranchised by a system they know little about and in which they cannot participate except as defendants.
After careful examination of the juvenile crime rates, the department shifted its enforcement and intervention strategies to the problems presented by juvenile crime and victimization in the Mount Pleasant area. Realizing the importance of policing which seeks to prevent rather than punish crime and committed to the welfare of Mount Pleasantís youth, the department has implemented programs in schools and the community designed to help educate teens, provide positive feedback, and provide some vehicle for identification of troubled teens early enough to allow for positive intervention. Conflict management programs provide teens with non-violent alternatives to resolve the everyday conflicts which can arise among young people. Group participation programs allow teens to be involved in developing strategies to deal with the problems of youth which lead to violent acts. Diversion programs provide the means by which responsibility and accountability can be established early on, while giving teens an opportunity to participate in the system. It is through such programs that the department attempts to help reduce drug abuse, criminal acts of violence, gang involvement, and teenage victimization. To this end, the department has implemented four programs: (1) Teens and Adults Providing Solutions (TAPS), (2) Real Justice, (3)Youth Court, and (4) The Habitual Offender Adoption Program (HOAP).
Teens and Adults Providing Solutions (TAPS)
So often, proposed solutions to problems of youth are developed with no input from the population being addressed. These solutions, more often than not, are either totally rejected by the teenagers, or have such limited success as to render them ineffective.
The Teens and Adults Providing Solutions (TAPS) program was developed, in 1998, as a result of concerns over the growing use/abuse of alcohol and drugs by the communityís young people, with an eye toward involvement of teens, school officials, parents and clergy. The goal of the TAPS program is to ensure that the youth have a voice in developing strategies to help resolve problems which directly affect them. Though still in its infancy, this group has made progress toward the exchange of information and development of warning signs to identify teens who are prone to alcohol and drug use and may ultimately become part of the 5% of youth who develop serious alcohol and drugs problems. Originally comprised of nineteen (19) adults and student members, the TAPS steering group developed this Mission Statement:
To serve the community through public awareness, education, and outreach toward a goal of accountability in order to create a drug free and healthy community.
During a second group session, involving fifty (50) middle and high school students and twenty (20) adults - school and government officials, clergy and parents -, a substantial amount of information was exchanged, with some of the adults being surprised at how honest the students would be about what is going on in the teen community. Many of the parents were shocked to learn that the teens unanimously felt parents of drug abusers were in denial, with their "...heads buried in the sand..." Both adults and students left this meeting with a new perspective on the problem, and a commitment to move forward toward mutually beneficial dialogue and activities in the future.
Among the more disruptive of offenses committed by youth in the Town of Mount Pleasant are vandalism and larceny. While these offenses are certainly "crimes", they often fall through the cracks in the juvenile justice system due to the inundation of court dockets for serious crimes such as murder, robbery and the like. This causes less serious cases to be deferred or otherwise disposed of. Victims have no control over the process, frequently are not advised of the outcome and are often inconvenienced further by the system. As a result, victims feel abused and unvindicated, offenders feel untouchable, and officers feel frustrated. In order to attempt to provide immediate satisfaction for the victim while providing immediate consequences for the offender, the department has implemented the Real Justice program.
Real Justice is not offender - victim mediation, the offender must right his or her wrong to the satisfaction of the victim. Throughout the process, the victim is in control, determining times for meetings and follow-ups at his or her best convenience. The department meets with the victim to determine an appropriate response, then meets with the parents of the juvenile to ensure agreement. Finally, the offender must meet with the victim and agree to the terms set forth. In this manner, the department "brokers" an agreement between the victim and the offender and his or her parents. A dollar amount is set for damages, and the offender is required to provide direct service to the victim, to repair the damage or perform other duties for a specific number of hours as determined by equating minimum wage against the amount of damage. The offender is made to realize that his or her acts are unacceptable and inexcusable. Victims have their property restored and are left with the feeling that there is "real justice" and real consequences for juveniles who commit these acts. Reaction to this program has been most positive.
An early intervention, peer court where teens try first-time offenders for non-violent crimes such as shoplifting or vandalism, the Youth Court is comprised of high school students who have been trained by the members of the South Carolina Bar Association. The teens assume positions as Youth Court Judges, Defense Attorneys, and Solicitors. The court is comprised of a tribunal in order to maintain fairness and equality. The departmentís juvenile investigator evaluates all juvenile criminal cases and refers all eligible candidates to the Solicitorís representative who, in turn, refers the case to Youth Court.
If the defendant pleads or is found guilty in a case heard by the Youth Court, sentences such as community service are imposed. Special conditions of sentences may include letters of apology to victims and parents, as well as personal apologies. The program ensures that first-time offenders are not discounted by, nor can they circumvent, the system due to the number of more serious cases overloading the juvenile justice system. The program also provides direct consequences for behavior, which impact directly upon the offender, in a more timely fashion.
As of July 1, 1998, the Youth Court alone has produced 2,364 hours in community service work by juvenile offenders. Additionally, victims, schools and parents have been the recipients of over 185 letters of apology, 128 hours of counseling services have been obtained for troubled youth and ten (10) personal apologies have been required.
Participants in the Youth Court program find that their experiences enhance their education in the various government and civics classes required of all high school students. As of July 1, 1998, one hundred-five (105) offenders have appeared before the court, while another seventy-eight (78) have been trained and participated as officers of the court. A total of one hundred-forty-five (145) cases have been processed through the court. This has enabled the department to reach a substantial number of young people and, to some degree, make them a part of the "system" by giving them the opportunity to participate in and contribute to the betterment of the community response to the Townís youth. Recidivism for Youth Court offenders is only 4.75%, far superior to any other initiative attempted to date.
Habitual Offender Adoption Program (HOAP)
The thrust of youth initiatives developed within the Town of Mount Pleasant has been to intervene with youth at the first possible opportunity and make attempts to dissuade them from involving themselves in drugs, gangs and criminal activities. However, when this intervention is not sufficient, the Habitual Offender Adoption Program (HOAP) provides the process through which the police department will act to remove the offender from the community. A very small portion of the youth of this community require such intervention, but there are a few. HOAP identifies those juveniles who generate large numbers of police contacts through numerous offenses. These persons, though non-violent offenders, generally cause disruption to the quality of life for their neighbors or fellow students, absorb disproportionate amounts of time for courts and the Department, and produce an appearance of lawlessness which would otherwise not exist.
In this initiative, those identified as habitual offenders are "adopted" by volunteer officers. The officers compile a dossier on the adopted offender, notify the offender of their "adoption," and ensure that all contacts are appropriately documented. In this manner, the Department provides an alternative for the juvenile to become a valuable member of the community or understand that the Department will ensure that the offender does not "fall throughout the cracks" of the criminal justice system. The ultimate goal of this program is to rehabilitate the juvenile, but, failing this, the program becomes the process through which the offender will ultimately be removed from the community. HOAP has adopted fourteen (14) juvenile offenders since its inception in 1995. Seven (7) of these offenders, 50%, generated no further police contact after adoption. As of July 1, 1998, only one remains as an "adopted" offender. These statistics, alone, speak to the success of these initiatives and the corresponding impact on the quality of life within the community.
There are always one or two "hard core" cases, but this program has been an overwhelming success in dealing with the vast majority of the youth who would become the hardened offenders from whom gangs derive sustenance. The message Mount Pleasant has attempted to convey is that resources will be provided to those who desire to become productive citizens of the community. For those who do not, sufficient resources will be dedicated to stop their disruption of the community.
2. How is the community involved in the program? How has the community responded to the program?
A primary goal, throughout the development of the various initiatives to deal with juvenile problems in the Mount Pleasant area, has been to develop programs with a broad prospective which allow for partnerships throughout the community as well as collaborative efforts with other service organizations. Civic groups, business and professional organizations, schools, the legal profession, courts and Town government are all working in concert to attain these goals. Implementation of these programs could not have been accomplished without these partnerships. The support and assistance of these agencies has enabled program criteria to be well rounded and meet a wide variety of needs of both youth and the community.
Results have been significant and gratifying to the department and community. Teenage alcohol and drug abuse appears to be down; positive contact between law enforcement and local youth is definitely up. When a troubled youth ceases to create problems in his or her school or neighborhood, everyone benefits. These youth initiatives have improved and continue to improve the quality of life in Mount Pleasant and make us proud of our department and optimistic about the future of our community.
The true test of any community policing initiative is the positive comments and response of citizens. The response of participants, parents, school officials and community leaders to the youth initiatives of the Mount Pleasant Police Department has been overwhelmingly favorable.
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.