Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Small Towns Fight Big-City Crime across the US, Rural Police Chiefs Are Fighting Gangs, Drugs, and Other Urban-Style Crime, but Some Towns Such as Marshalltown, Iowa, Have Their Own Solutions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Small Towns Fight Big-City Crime across the US, Rural Police Chiefs Are Fighting Gangs, Drugs, and Other Urban-Style Crime, but Some Towns Such as Marshalltown, Iowa, Have Their Own Solutions

Article excerpt

WELL away from America's big cities, and a turnpike away from suburban calm, many rural towns and outlying counties are now grappling with an urban-like intrusion: rising incidents of violent juvenile crime.

Hard national statistics are difficult to come by. But if a spot check of more than two-dozen small town and county officials across the country by the Monitor is any guide, gang violence, teen drug dealing, and other offenses common in inner cities are now a big concern for their more bucolic counterparts.

"We're seeing every kind of crime you'd see now in Chicago or New York," says John Justice, a solicitor in rural South Carolina. "In juvenile court it's rare to see a 16- or 18-year-old kid with any parents there to be with him. Instead he has already fathered two kids and doesn't have a job."

Local officials say the same conditions, cited as the social causes of big-city juvenile crime, also contribute to teen crimes in rural areas. These include broken families with little supervision over youths, abuse of alcohol and drugs, peer pressure, access to weapons, and dropping out of school. They also cite limited job opportunities and the influence of TV, movies, and music videos that promote violence.

Rural juvenile crime is not a well-studied phenomenon. But when areas like Marshalltown, Iowa, Chester, S.C., and Yakima County, Wash., have drive-by shootings, local officials say the cause could be either incipient gang activity or random "copy cat" shootings. Either way, it's an increasingly disturbing phenomenon.

"We have some upstart gangs," says Capt. David Joswiack of Marshalltown, a town of 26,000. "But at this point it's hard to tell how strong they are."

For many small towns, the flow of drugs from nearby large cities contributes to juvenile crime. "We're between Dallas and Houston," says Jimmy Fisher, police chief of Crockett, Texas, population 8,000, "and we get a lot of juveniles stopping by to educate our youth in drugs and gangs."

In California, as drug markets have become saturated in cities, dealers are expanding into rural areas. "Turf protection leads to violence," says Ken Hurdle, consultant to the state Senate. "In some cases local officials, who are part time, don't want to get involved with these violent kids."

In Ottawa, Kan., a town of 11,000 about 45 miles from Kansas City, Police Capt. Charles Bowling says, "We have gang activity here, probably dropouts and kids kicked out by their parents. …

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