Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom has released statistics for 2013 involving juvenile prosecutions handled by his Office. (These statistics do not reflect the total number of criminal incidents occurring, as more than one juvenile can be charged in a single incident, and a number of crimes occurring in 2013 remain under investigation by law enforcement agencies.) In Minnesota, County Attorneys prosecute all crimes committed by juveniles (youth 10-17 years old) including felonies, gross misdemeanors, misdemeanors and some petty misdemeanors. Backstrom pointed out the following highlights:
• The number of juvenile offenders charged with all levels of crimes decreased from 1,498 in 2012 to 1,119 in 2013 (955, or 85%, of these cases involved misdemeanors).
• The number of juvenile offenders charged with felony-level crimes decreased from 134 in 2012 to 111 in 2013.
2013 JUVENILES CRIMES PROSECUTED DECREASE
Backstrom indicated that Dakota County experienced a decrease in the overall number of juveniles prosecuted for all levels of criminal acts. The following reflects the number of juveniles charged with all levels of crimes based upon referrals from individual cities and the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office. Backstrom emphasized that most of the charges filed were for misdemeanor level offenses (1,249 juveniles charged in 2012 to 955 in 2013):
Apple Valley decreased from 297 to 173
Burnsville decreased from 182 to 166
Dakota County Sheriff decreased from 139 to 120
Eagan decreased from 184 to 137
Farmington decreased from 61 to 42
Hastings decreased from 97 to 69
Inver Grove Heights decreased from 106 to 98
Lakeville decreased from 141 to 71
Mendota Heights increased from 13 to 15
Rosemount decreased from 53 to 52
South St. Paul decreased from 121 to 97
West St. Paul decreased from 88 to 72
Backstrom stated: “With the exception of last year, we have seen a steady decrease in the number of juveniles charged with felonies each year in Dakota County, which is remarkable given our size and growth over the last decade. I am proud of the great work being done in our schools, law enforcement and community organization and the partnerships we have developed to address these youth issues. We have also implemented a number of prevention and early intervention programs. I believe this commitment to addressing youth problems quickly and proactively is a direct reflection in the decline we have experienced in the last decade in the numbers of juveniles charged with crimes in our community.”
JUVENILES CHARGED WITH FELONY OFFENSES
Backstrom said the number of juveniles charged with a felony decreased slightly to 111 in 2013 compared to 134 in 2012. (See chart below.) “Felonies are the most serious crimes charged by this Office and can include various crimes of violence,” Backstrom said. “It is a very good sign that the number of juveniles charged with felony level crimes has dropped each year over the last decade, and in 2013 was less than 1/3 of the number of youth charged with these serious crimes in 2004,” Backstrom added.
JUVENILE CRIMES OF VIOLENCE
In 2013 there were 261 juveniles charged with violent offenses in Dakota County. Backstrom said the most common violent crime committed by juveniles was misdemeanor assault (235 juveniles charged in 2012 to 198 in 2013):
Violent Crime Offenders
Dangerous Weapons 18
Sex Offenses 14
Terroristic Threats 9
Criminal Vehicular Homicide 2
PREVENTION, EARLY INTERVENTION AND ACCOUNTABILITY PROGRAMS
Prevention of juvenile crime has long been a priority for County Attorney Backstrom, who is a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national organization committed to informing policy-makers and the public about the importance of youth prevention and early intervention efforts. Backstrom also serves as a co-chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee for the National District Attorneys Association. Backstrom commented: "I believe the most effective thing we can do to reduce crime in America is to invest our time, resources and energy in our nation’s children. We accomplish this with effective and appropriate early intervention efforts aimed at preventing crime before it occurs and intervening quickly when problems arise.”
Backstrom indicated that the Dakota County Attorney's Office coordinates a number of youth accountability programs for first-time offenders involved in the illegal use of alcohol, small amounts of marijuana and lower-level property crimes. A more intensive program for second-time users of alcohol or small amounts of marijuana is also available. These programs resolve these cases outside of the court process allowing youth to learn from their mistakes and avoid a criminal record. In 2013, a total of 798 juvenile offenders were referred to various accountability programs as an alternative to juvenile court compared to 862 in 2012.
Backstrom commented: “Youth accountability programs are designed to appropriately deal with youth who commit certain first or second-time non-violent offenses. These youth are held responsible for their criminal behavior outside of the criminal process.” Each program requires the involvement of a parent or guardian and focuses on education and prevention. For most youth accountability programs, the youth must pay for the cost of attending these alternatives to court, pay restitution to the victim, do community work service, write letters of apology and complete a variety of other sanctions within a timely manner.
The Peer Court program, a joint project of the Dakota County Attorney, Community Corrections and the District Court, operated in seven area high schools in 2013: Eastview (Apple Valley), Burnsville, Hastings, Simley (Inver Grove Heights), Lakeville North and South and South St. Paul. In Peer Court teens serve as jurors and become personally involved in resolving the problem of juvenile crime in their community. Backstrom noted: “The mission of Peer Court is to proactively address illegal activities of juvenile offenders by encouraging them to take responsibility for their own actions. Peer Court also serves as a great learning experience for the students who serve as jurors in the process.” In 2013, 33 juveniles were referred to Peer Court under the direction of Judge Joseph Carter.
JUVENILE CRIME PREVENTION INITIATIVES
County Attorney Backstrom continued his anti-bullying initiative which he began during the 2002-03 school year. To date this program has been presented to over 18,000 students, staff and parents. It has been reported that 160,000 children skip school every day in America because they fear being attacked or intimidated by another student. Up to 60% of children who bully will have a criminal record before the age of 24. This past year Backstrom also continued to address issues facing middle and high school students concerning increasing use of technology. Backstrom commented: “Making good choices about sending a text message, email or other form of technology is very important for teens today. Educating students on the potential dangers of bullying, harassing or aggressive behaviors, and the dangers associated with “sexting” and how this conduct could lead to criminal charges is important in our efforts to keep our kids safe.”
Other prevention programs/efforts of the Dakota County Attorney’s Office include the 26th annual Anti-Drug/Violence Poster and Calendar Contest, resources on internet safety, materials on keeping teens safe when driving; materials relating to dangers of chemical abuse, mental health and suicide prevention forums throughout Dakota County and ongoing support to the Safe & Drug Free School Coordinators.
Details of the juvenile cases charged by the Dakota County Attorney’s Office in 2013 are broken down on the attached chart by type of crime and jurisdiction. This information is also available on the Dakota County Attorney website at: CountyAttorneyStatistics.
If you have any questions, contact James Backstrom at 651-438-4440.