Turn on any local news channel or read any local paper and it appears crime in Madison is on the rise, specifically juvenile crime.
A 58-year-old woman was attacked by multiple assailants Oct. 10. The suspects proceeded to steal her purse and her car, later crashing the car on Seminole Highway. Three teenage girls were arrested at the crash. Two days later, a male suspect was arrested in connection to the strong-armed robbery and battery. Those involved were aged 13, 13, 13 and 15.
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These cases aren’t outliers. Plenty of violent behavior perpetrated by minors has plagued the Madison area for the past few months. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval responded to the crime increase on his blog, describing why the juvenile “justice” system has failed. The Juvenile Reception Center and Dane County Shelter are full. Home detention and GPS monitoring are unreliable in restricting individuals. And the disturbances and inappropriate behaviors at Madison’s public schools are becoming far too common.
Take the Oct. 10 incident — the young male had been arrested in August for driving a stolen vehicle. The officer who arrested him knew the teen from other stolen vehicle cases, including one from Nov. 2017, when the teen was 12. In the present case, the teen was supposed to be on electronic monitory — but he cut off his GPS ankle bracelet. Even worse, according to an officer’s report, the teen said the incident was “only the beginning” and that he’s “just getting started.”
These incidents — and similar incidents — will not stop without some sort of intervention. Obviously, we want to keep juveniles out of the jail and prison systems as much as reasonably possible, so we must come up with other solutions. Chief Koval mentions “relationship building” with these youths to understand why they are making such bad and reckless choices. This is a good start. This is the role of parents, teachers, social workers, community leaders, etc. They must convince these youths the best choice is to stay out of involvement with these street gangs.
But we also need the justice system to show these youths there are consequences resulting from their actions. West Police District Capt. Cory Nelson said MPD officers “have arrested many kids who are on bracelets from their last arrest … our officers are arresting [these] kids every chance we get, yet they are many times almost immediately released.” Koval reaffirmed this view, as he said the group of juveniles has “effectively demonstrated that they are impervious to juvenile ‘justice’ system(s) that lack sufficient resources to alter outcomes which can only lead to “adult” sanctions in the near future.”
When these youths are allowed to return to the streets, the only thing we get is more victims. We aren’t fixing the problem — we’re only making it worse and creating a revolving door of crime. These young criminals are not held seriously accountable for their actions, and just as often become repeat offenders.
It’s no wonder kids aren’t afraid to commit crimes, either. The community blames others, nearly absolving the juveniles of their actions. They blame the systemic injustices these students live in. This is evident when the Oct. 29 Madison School Board meeting was shut down by protesters who advocated for the removal of police officers from Madison’s high schools. Protesters chanted, “No cops in schools! If we don’t get it, shut it down!”
They believe that the presence of these educational resource officers makes students fearful and that if the officers remain, the board is supporting racism and white supremacy. These claims are absurd. Students aren’t being arrested in schools because of their race — they are being arrested because of their actions. Uniformed officers are currently present at Madison East, La Follette, Memorial High and Madison West high schools. The role of the EROs in these high schools is entirely necessary given the apparent rise of violent student incidents and the uptick in suspensions. A Madison schools committee reiterated this claim in September, unanimously recommending police officers remain in the four main high schools.
Imagine if these EROs were able to create relationships with students, in a role similar to school counselors. Instead, these officers are stuck breaking up fights between young teens, even so far as suffering a broken hand. Schools are meant to be a place of learning, but it seems that for learning to occur, students need to be monitored. The thing is, the police shouldn’t be blamed for the problems at our schools. It’s the students. Cops didn’t fire gunshots in a bus or spray bullets through the neighborhood near La Follette High School. This was the community and students. Police are needed to keep the peace in these schools and to keep students safe, especially those who don’t commit crimes.
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This isn’t just the job of the police and the justice system. The responsibility lies on the juveniles committing crimes, and the people who surround them. Parents need to step in and step up. Community leaders need to be role models for these kids to know what’s right and what’s wrong. And the juveniles need to listen, or else they will end up where many believe they already belong — behind bars.
Andrew Stein ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science and economics.