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Juvenile crime rises, falls in different First Coast counties

8:41 AM, May 2, 2013   |    comments
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Burglarizing homes and stealing property: Teens are making headlines as young offenders.
    
Earlier this year, a 12 and 14-year-old stole a car twice in less than two weeks in St. Johns County.

Now, a report is saying Clay County is seeing a 15 percent increase in young offenders placed in residential facilities while Duval County numbers drop.

"We took speakers out of it and the other guy smashed in the door and dented it," said Tyler Lavasseur.

A fun Saturday night turned into Tyler's first offense after breaking into a Honda and getting busted.

Placed in a squad car and handcuffed, the 17-year-old Clay County high school junior was hit with reality when charged with two felonies: burglary and criminal mischief.

"A lot of new construction theft and crime, we get a lot of vandalism. It can be hit or miss," said Clay County Sheriff's Office Capt. Joe Bucci.

According to a report released in February, Clay County saw a 15 percent increase in the number of youth placed in a residential facility over the past five years.

Compare that to Nassau County, which saw a 48 percent decrease and Duval County, which dropped by 24 percent.

Clay County officials say the February report doesn't tell the whole story of what they call a roller coaster of highs and lows when it comes to juvenile arrests.

"Just in 2012 alone, I think we had 813 arrests of juveniles here at he clay county sheriff's office versus a 919 in 2009," Bucci said.

And while there's no clear reason for the increase, the Sheriff's Office is making sure those who offend see the big picture.
 
"They were my friends at the time so I didn't look at them at the time as bad people, but it wasn't a good scene to be in in the first place, especially at that age," Lavasseur said.

But it's his age that helped give him a second chance. As a teen first-time offender of a minor crime, he was eligible for Teen Court.

"As much as adults hate disrespectful kids with attitude, teen juries hate them more, and that will give them a very heavy punishment," said Teen Court Director Debbie Mueller.
 
So if the offender pleads guilty then agrees and completes counseling, community service, a class in crime prevention and teen court jury duty, their record is cleared.

"You realize how seriously you have to take it and if you don't you get kicked out and tried," said Lavasseur.

The CCSO said during the current economic lull, they've seen young people start to hang out in abandoned and foreclosed homes, which is considered burglary.

There is a 75-80 percent success rate with Teen Court, a program paid for by $3 fee placed on Clay County traffic and court costs.

First Coast News

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