Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay law enforcement gives first-time juvenile offenders a break

TAMPA — First-time juvenile offenders may face consequences for committing minor crimes in Hillsborough County. They may even face their parents. But, as of this month, they likely won't face arrest.

The county's four law enforcement agencies have quit arresting kids suspected in any of nine misdemeanor offenses — including petty theft, simple battery and alcohol possession — if the incident was the suspect's first brush with the law.

The new approach, which to some may feel like a decades-old approach, allows officers to fill out paperwork and call parents instead of locking up young suspects. The model encourages apologies, counseling and community service. It wagers that some kids will learn from mistakes.

Prosecutors expect thousands of teens each year to avoid a trip to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

"The whole idea in the juvenile system is to rehabilitate the child before they become an adult," said prosecutor Doug Covington, who oversees misdemeanor and juvenile cases for the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office.

Juvenile pre-arrest diversion programs are taking hold statewide, partly in response to changing law. Hillsborough's took shape in the Juvenile Justice Task Force, created in March 2010 at the urging of County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who had studied the arrests of children.

His research showed that 70 percent of the kids arrested in Hillsborough County were picked up for, in his words, "doing something stupid," largely nonviolent misdemeanor offenses.

Beckner said that was due in part to a zero-tolerance wave in the juvenile justice system after a series of shocking high-profile crimes committed by minors in the 1990s.

"I think, as a reaction to that, we criminalized every offense," Beckner said, including matters that might have been handled with a phone call to a parent in the past.

"This program holds youths accountable for their actions while giving them an opportunity to become a productive citizen and get them on the right path."

Supporters say the policy will save money and result in swifter punishment because cases won't have to go through the court system.

Minors will get a second chance to avoid a criminal record, which could help them when they apply for jobs or college, said Tampa police Cpl. Kert Rojka, who serves on the county's Juvenile Justice Task Force.

"It gives them the opportunity to modify their behavior and make better decisions," Rojka said.

The St. Petersburg Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office have cut first-time juvenile offenders a break for several years. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has had a similar program for at least 15 years, said spokesman Kevin Doll.

Beginning July 1, a change in state law will require every Florida county to offer a program aimed at helping juveniles avoid arrest records. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, and Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota.

Law enforcement officers will still have the discretion to arrest some first offenders. That could be useful if a deputy suspects the child has committed other crimes, said Hillsborough sheriff's Col. Greg Brown.

Also, each county has the ability to tailor its list of eligible crimes. For example, Hillsborough limits leniency to nine misdemeanors: theft below $300, criminal mischief, trespassing, simple battery/assault, violation of local ordinances, disorderly conduct, disruption of a school function, affray, or simple alcohol possession without intoxication.

However, in Pasco and Pinellas, a minor could offend with a third-degree felony and still avoid arrest.

Though it appears teens will be getting a free pass for certain offenses, supporters say the program is not soft on crime.

Juveniles who commit misdemeanors for the first time often don't see jail time anyway. Their punishment has typically included paying restitution, doing community service and writing apology letters — penalties incorporated into the arrest avoidance program, said Rojka.

"We're not turning a blind eye," he said. "The only thing that's going to change is: Do they go to (the Juvenile Assessment Center) or do they go home with their parent?

"And I'm sure some would prefer JAC."

Times staff writers Bill Varian and Kim Wilmath contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay law enforcement gives first-time juvenile offenders a break 06/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 13, 2011 11:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. St. Pete qualifying ends. Seven for mayor. Eight for District 6 on primary ballot

    Blogs

    The smiles of the faces of the workers in the City Clerk’s office said it all. The qualifying period for city elections was almost over.

    City Clerk Chan Srinivasa (2nd left) and Senior Deputy City Clerk  Cathy Davis (1st left) celebrate the end of qualifying period with colleagues on Friday afternoon
  2. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  3. Registered sexual predator charged in assault of woman in Brooksville

    Public Safety

    Times Staff Writer

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County deputies arrested a registered sexual predator Thursday after they say he attempted to assault a woman and fled into a storm drain.

    Lee Roy Rettley has been charged with attempted homicide, attempted sexual battery and home invasion robbery.
  4. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags

    Autos

    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]
  5. Former CEO of Winn-Dixie parent joining Hong Kong company

    News

    The former CEO of the Jacksonville-based parent of Winn-Dixie grocery stores, Ian McLeod, has landed a new leadership role in Hong Kong. He is joining the pan-Asian based Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd. as group chief executive.

    Ian McLeod, who is stepping down as the CEO of the parent company of Winn-Dixie, has been hired by Dairy Farm International Holdings. 
[Photo courtesy of Southeastern Grocers]