After a noticeable increase in minors participating in crimes, the Madison Police Department is focusing its safety efforts on working with a group of repeat juvenile offenders.

MPD spokesperson Joel DeSpain and juvenile court administrator John Bauman have both noticed a trend in the same large group of kids participating in crimes, most notably car theft.

Bauman said a large group of kids find stealing cars “exciting,” which has spiked crime numbers. A smaller section of this group repeatedly steals cars, he added.

Police and juvenile court officials developed an alternative plan in hopes of reaching the repeat group of offenders more efficiently than putting them in detention.

In a blog post, MPD Chief Mike Koval wrote that children who commit crimes are victims just as much as victimizers. If these children are given aid and resources to provide them with help toward mental health and trauma, it will not only benefit them but the Madison community as a whole.

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Officers have identified the repeat juvenile offenders responsible for the crimes and have been in contact with them and their families. Many of the offenders have been placed in detention, but DeSpain said he realizes this will not stop criminal behaviors.

“Currently, the system as it’s set up, there’s no deterrents seemingly in place stopping the behavior,” DeSpain said. “We have a group of young people who aren’t getting the message.”

DeSpain said officers are working toward the development of a different, better plan to reach repeat offenders.

The court system has seen an increase in the number of juveniles who are placed into detention temporarily, Bauman said. Currently, there are a much higher number of juveniles in detention than they have had in past years.

“Judges have been reluctant to send kids to Lincoln Hills Youth Prison due to the issues that are well publicized,” Bauman said. “The system is really trying to respond to that group of kids.”

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While arrests of juveniles in Madison have been declining over the years, DeSpain said he is aware there is work that still needs to be done. Efforts to reach out to children and their families have not rendered high success rates, he said, but the effort is one step forward in improving the Madison community and its safety. 

“It is time to address juvenile behaviors that not only embrace what’s in the best interests of the child, but acknowledges and acts upon ensuring the safety of our community as well,” Koval wrote in his blog.