TAMPA — When Hillsborough County leaders agreed to increase the use of civil citations for first-time juvenile offenders in the summer of 2017, there were 13 offenses that were deemed ineligible for consideration.
Now, the number of offenses is down to five.
Touting what he called "the next step in the evolution of criminal justice reform in Hillsborough County," State Attorney Andrew Warren said Monday that the county has dramatically expanded the number of offenses eligible for juvenile civil citations to include nearly all misdemeanor crimes.
That means even more kids who have never been in trouble before will be able to avoid having an arrest on their record.
"Our law enforcement partners in the trenches see the benefits of this," Warren said. "Having them embrace it is key."
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan were among the local leaders who signed an agreement last week to expand the Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program.
The idea is to offer a probation-style diversion program to first-time juvenile offenders in lieu of arrest and prosecution. Juveniles who receive the citations must agree to accept responsibility for the crime and enter a diversion program, which can include community service or restitution.
The list of eligible crimes previously included things like petty theft, misdemeanor marijuana possession, resisting arrest without violence, and carrying a concealed weapon.
The new agreement also includes family violence — a form of battery in which the victim is a parent or a sibling — as one of the crimes eligible for a civil citation. Warren said the challenge of including it hinged on having a shelter location where law enforcement officers can take juveniles to cool off after a family conflict.
They found such a place with the Hillsborough County Children's Services Lake Magdalene Campus. With their parent's consent, juveniles accused of family violence will now be taken to the shelter facility, where they can receive counseling and academic services.
Other previously ineligible offenses that are part of the expansion include exhibition of a weapon, lewd and lascivious acts, disorderly intoxication, and reckless driving.
A 2016 report compiled by the Children's Campaign and other child advocacy groups reported that Hillsborough lagged behind its neighboring Tampa Bay area counties in its use of juvenile civil citations. The program's expansion in 2017 was an effort to remedy that. In the 18 months since, Warren said they've seen successes that include a low rate of re-offending after a juvenile goes through the civil citation program.
In 2018, Hillsborough law enforcement officers issued about 75 juvenile civil citations per month, according to data provided by Warren's office. Since January, that number has increased to about 90 civil citations per month.
Statistics compiled by the Administrative Office of the Courts show that the two most common offenses for which juveniles received civil citations, by far, were marijuana possession and petty theft.
The latest agreement denotes five specific offenses that are not eligible for the juvenile civil citations. They are domestic battery (not including family violence), assault on a school employee or law enforcement officer, violation of an injunction, driving under the influence, and racing.
Warren said his office will continue to monitor data on the outcomes of civil citation programs before deciding whether to expand it further. A potential next step, he said, would be to offer citations for second-time misdemeanor offenses.
Contact Dan Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.