Kurt never thought when he left his house that the day would turn out to be the worst of his life.
Kurt, 13, explained that fateful day in a five-page essay report written for the San Diego Police Department.
“I had the day planned out to be fun and active by going on a bike ride with my friend, Bobby. I watched my friend get a haircut, and we went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant. When we were done eating we decided to go to Target (a discount store) to look for some new clothes,” Kurt wrote.
Kurt and his buddy ended up shoplifting a couple of fishing lures. The youngsters were caught by store detectives and police were called.
“I really didn’t think it was very serious until the officer read us our rights, which actually stunned me,” Kurt remembered in his essay.
Kurt, a first-time offender, was placed in a juvenile intervention program run by the Police Department. The boy and his parents were contacted by Officer Paul Thornton and told that he and his mother had to attend a three-hour class that featured slides of detention facilities for kids who continued to violate the law.
Lt. Bill Campbell, who heads the program, said: “Nothing used to happen to the first-time offenders, but at least 25% of these kids were getting arrested a
second time, and 50% of then were being arrested a third time. A delinquent life style had been established.”
Kurt signed a contract with Thornton requesting admission to the juvenile intervention program. He promised to write an essay called, “The Consequences of My Acts.” The essay had the youth describe the nature of the offense and arrest, the effect on the community, family and friends.
Counseling, Training, Community Service Included
The program includes counseling, training sessions with his parents and a promise to perform community service chores.
“In my state of being I know that day has scared me enough that I won’t ever do it again. I’m surprised that other criminals can have the courage to go out and do something bad again,” wrote Kurt.
Campbell said the police try to make a significant impression on potential delinquents through the program. He said that the rearrest rate for those who go through the program is only 3%.
“The kids have to realize there is a price to pay,” Campbell said. “These offenses should not be forgiven like bad grades or a misbehavior.”
Presiding Judge Napoleon Jones of San Diego juvenile court said: “A large part of the effectiveness of this intervention program is that it keeps the minor away from the formal system. It demands a direct accountability for the act and it shows that there is a consequence.”
Campbell added that if the first offense is a serious felony, the culprit goes straight to court.
“A 15-year-old burglar-for-profit is not a kid we want to divert.” Campbell said. “That burglar needs to held accountable for his act.”
“Arrogant asses are not allowed in the program, either,” he added.
A majority of the offenders in the program have shoplifted. Some are arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Others were caught smoking in school restrooms. A couple of girls, aged 8 and 9, were making obscene phone calls to another girl’s mother.
The average age of a juvenile first-time offender is 14. The youngest child admitted to the program was 8.
“I’ve really been surprised at the number of kids that keep my business card that I give them,” Thornton said. “They call me on occasion to tell me about their report cards; how well they’re doing. Sometimes they’ll stop by just to chat. Often at home I’ll get a call from the station. Frantic parents will need a situation defused.”
Campbell said that in at least 90% of the cases there is a marked improvement in the family.
“They now have a resource. We use community agencies a lot,” he said.
Campbell remembered that a couple of kids asked police to go out and pick up their parents’ drug stashes.
“If we can’t use drugs, then why should they?” kids asked.
The mother of a boy who went through the program said: “David just seemed to be at the wrong place at the right time. The program changed our entire family. (The program) is not interested in just locking up the kids.”