Program aims to help our kids

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Social programs put together by neighborhood associations in South Minneapolis to remedy juvenile crime are being overtaken by the City because their funding has been drastically cut or no longer exists.

Neighborhood Revitali zation Program funds are dwindling and highly successful youth crime deterrence programs like Teen Job and Opportunity Fairs organized through entities like the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization and the Field Regina/ Northrop Neighborhood Group have been imperiled. Events like the job fairs are said to have brought hundreds of teens and their families together with employers and organizations offering jobs and volunteer opportunities that develop job-building skills.

But the success of City-driven juvenile crime programs has overshadowed the
neighborhoods’ best efforts.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’ s Jan. 7 announcement of recommendations made by a special committee on juvenile crime will get the City Council’s full attention for funding if approved. The report had already received a tacit endorsement nearly a month ago by a national police research group that gave Minneapolis high marks for crime-fighting programs targeted at youths since 2006.

Among initiatives that year, Minneapolis police began a juvenile investigative unit, a liaison with the city health department for community-based programs and an increased emphasis on curfew and truancy.

The 59-page report released in the middle of December, titled “Violent Crime in America: A Tale of Two Cities,” and produced by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), found that the City of Minneapolis’ aggressive stance on juvenile crime has worked in two ways: in the short term keeping kids in school and in the long term, getting kids the help and resources they need, keeping them on track and away from criminals and criminal behavior.

The report also details the city’ s success in reducing violent crime through the efforts of task force officers who work to get violent gangs off the street. The City’s Violent Offender Task Force helped to carry out investigations that led to over 30 federal indictments, removing violent gang members from the city’s neighborhoods. Its Violent Criminal Apprehension Team (VCAT) that is aimed solely at getting violent juveniles into the criminal justice system has been so successful, according to the PERF report, that when many youths find out VCAT has a warrant for their arrest, they turn themselves in to authorities rather than hide.

“The last few years we’ve seen that the main driver of violent crime in Minneapolis was the increase in violence committed by juveniles,” said Rybak, who helped to spark PERF’s violent crime research initiative. “In the past, juveniles accounted for about 20 percent of our City’ s violent crime, but in 2006 it rose to well over 50 percent. Now we’re seeing that taking strong measures to address the critical issue of juvenile crime is showing results in our overall crime numbers,” Rybak said.

“In 2005 and 2006, juveniles accounted for over half of those arrested for violent crimes, now that percentage has fallen to between 25 and 30 percent,” said Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan. “Police officers now pay greater attention to curfew and truancy offenses and schools that work with the police report a 75 percent improvement in truancy problems. A significant reason for our success is our approach to juvenile crime,” Dolan said.

This year’s special committee’s report outlines 34 recommendations designed to provide further support for young people and deter violence. Pending approval by the City Council, the committee will afterward have 100 days to design a plan and find the money to focus on ages 8 to 17 who are at high risk for involvement in crime. According to the report, this will entail four broad goals: “connecting youth to trusted adults; intervening at the first sign a youngster is at risk for violence; rehabilitating teens who have gone down the wrong path; and, unlearning the culture of violence.”

The new report also identifies several neighborhoods that have seen the highest number of homicides and shootings between young people, and recommends focusing mentorship programs in those areas.

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