Car thefts committed by juveniles are down, program aimed at first-time youth offenders expands

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- The number of car thefts committed by juveniles in Scott County has seen a sharp decrease this year,  but a program to keep first-time youth offenders from re-offending is being expanded.

Scott County supervisors on Thursday, October 17,  voted unanimously to expand the Auto Theft Accountability Program, a program implemented this May in response to the spike in car thefts seen in the Quad Cities in recent years.

Juvenile crime and car thefts in particular were identified as public safety issue, addressed by Mayor Frank Klipsch at a youth summit last year.

"First-time offenders, that was the big scare," recalled Major Shawn Roth, a chief deputy at the Scott County Sheriff's Office. "Our scare was when your first offense isn’t the stealing of something small from a store, its’ the stealing of a vehicle, driving extreme speeds, shots fired."

The number of car thefts committed by juveniles peaked in 2017 and has gone down drastically since, numbers from Scott County's Juvenile Court show:

  • 2016:    58 cars stolen by juveniles
  • 2017:    237 cars stolen by juveniles (19.75 thefts per month)
  • 2018:    225 cars stolen by juveniles
  • 2019:    70 car stolen by juveniles through August (8.78 thefts per month)

The numbers include first-time offenses and repeat offenses, Hobart said, crediting the decline to a community effort to provide diversion programs for youth and their families.

Since the Auto Theft Accountabilty Program began in May, there have been only seven first-time offenders, he said, while in 2018 there had been about 100 first-time offenders.

"That's a good thing,for sure" said Jeremy Kaiser, Director of the Juvenile Detention and Diversion Programs. But it has meant that the Auto Theft Accountablity Program, designed to target first-time offenders, hasn't been able to reach many kids as he had hoped: "We had seven referrals in five months, averaging just over one a month."

The program brings youth offenders face to face with their victims in a restorative justice approach that includes mediation and requires the youth to show accountability and make amends through their actions.

"We want to be very careful about who we’re offering the program to. We’re diverting felonies," Kaiser said. "[The youth] have the opportunity to have this charge dismissed."

Two juveniles have completed the program and another two are currently going through it.  Three others became ineligible when they reoffended before the program began.

Kaiser has now received Scott County supervisors' approval to expand the program to first time juveniles who have committed other nonviolent property crimes.

"We were specifically targeting auto theft with this program, because it was such an issue," he said. "But now we have the budget capacity and we have the staffing ready to go, we feel like we can do more. This allows us to take a look at juveniles that come in on burglary charges or criminal mischief charges or other theft offenses. There’s no violent offenses in this, it’s all about property."

The expanded program would not include burglaries where people are in the house at the time of the crime.

Major Roth said the Sheriff's Office was fully behind that expansion.

"We are trying different multi-disciplinary ideas to come up with something, whether it's juvenile court service, or law enforcement, or the court system," he said. "The commmunity is coming up with different ideas. How do we get through to these kids to make better decisions. Every little bit helps. It takes a community to raise kids."

He and Kaiser were cautious about celebrating the decline in car thefts too soon.

"We still have work to do," Kaiser said. "Our juvenile detention numbers have been down, but the number of juveniles held at the jail has been up. It’s a wash. There's till work to be done, addressing other violent crime and such."

Funding for the Auto Theft Accountability Program comes from the Iowa Department of Human Services and was allocated earlier this year when it started and will cover the expanded scope.

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