Albany Times Union — Reason for Drop in Youth Arrests Hard to Pin Down

By Steve Hughes
Albany Times Union
November 23, 2019

More and more, kids are staying out of trouble.

At least that’s what the numbers are saying.

Over the last five years the number of police stops and arrests involving Capital Region youths has fallen more than 45 percent, according to state data. It’s a stunning drop — but one without a clear single reason, say law enforcement and juvenile justice system professionals.

Several factors are likely in play, including an overall drop in crime in the country, changes in the drug trade, increased use of alternatives to incarceration and changes in youth culture, said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, tracking trends, and something definitely feels different than it did 20 years ago,” Butts said.

Troy Deputy Police Chief Daniel DeWolf said a possible explanation for the drop in juvenile arrests may be the increase in the use of school resource officers in local schools over the years. The city went from 187 stops involving juvenile criminal activity in 2014 to just 72 in 2018. Photo: Lori Van Buren.

… “It’s the discretion of cops because they can arrest you for a misdemeanor trespass or a misdemeanor disorderly (conduct). But with the advent of Raise the Age and everyone saying we want to treat kids as kids maybe that disorderly conduct arrest, cops just aren’t doing it. It’s more the sentiment, because cops still can make those arrests.”

Butts was skeptical of the idea that Raise the Age and departments rethinking their approaches to juvenile arrests have driven much of the decrease. “It could be that we’re all just lucky, that we’re seeing Raise the Age in the midst of a serious crime decline,” he said. “The real test is if numbers go back up. You always have to be prepared for the policy world to overreact to crime increases,” he said.

Instead, the decline could partially be explained by the advent of new technologies like cellphones and video games, Butts said. “When the drug trade changed to texting your dealer for a meeting or a drop point, the risk went down, the exposure went down,” he said. “Another, that I like, is the indoor-outdoor trend in young people. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to have fun, you needed to leave your apartment or house. Now, there’s a lot of fun to be had sitting in your bedroom with your phone or your laptop, interacting with people and there’s just a lot more indoor life for adolescents than there used to be.”

[ read the article, with data exhibits ]