The downtick in violent juvenile crime in 1995, just reported
by Attorney General Janet Reno doesn't mean we're on our way out of
There was a 2.9 percent drop overall, with murders declining
15.2 percent. But the new figures follow some terrifying years -
six in which juvenile arrests for murder, rape, robbery and
aggravated assault rose 50 percent; seven in which juvenile arrests
for weapons law violations doubled; 10 years that saw the number of
homicides by juveniles triple.
And the decline comes just as experts have been warning of a
firestorm of crime as the ranks of 14- to 17-year-olds - youths in
their most violence-prone years - will increase by 23 percent in
the next decade.
Still, the 1995 figures are heartening because they shatter the
idea of an inevitable surge of dangerous youth crime we're
powerless to control. What did cause the 1995 decline? How do we
Social conservatives will credit last year's drop to the
popular new wave of laws allowing juveniles to be tried as adults,
punishing truancy and imposing curfews, putting more youthful
offenders behind bars.
The truancy and curfew laws are too new, though, to have had an
impact. And the yearly, fresh supply of potential young criminals
makes it unlikel y incarceration alone could ever reverse recent
years' stunning growth in juvenile crime.
What then of the "softer," crime-prevention side - after-school
recreation opportunities for children, family counseling, creating
"safe" places, drug rehabilitation?
The vast majority of people who work with troubled youth want
to stress the prevention measures. The Raleigh News & Observer
summed up the feeling of several court officials and social service
leaders - that "cracking down on teen violence without also
attacking its causes is like bailing out a leaky boat with a
But for most of the '90s, legislatures have been de-emphasizing
and de-funding preventive measures in their rush to show how tough
they are on teen-age thugs.
The likeliest cause of a youth crime dip is community policing
- the '90s police departments' efforts to form stronger links with
Community policing is strongest in some of the big cities
afflicted by the worst youth crime, especially homicides.
"Every place that I have examined where community policing has
occurred, there has been a dramatic drop in crime, particularly in
violent crime," says Marvin Wolfgang, a University of Pennsylvania
Combining community policing with efforts to get guns out of
the hands of youth produces real results, as New York and Boston
have learned. …