For the Facebook Live video of the Press Conference, click here.
The number of juveniles being arrested as first-time offenders has plummeted in Orange and Osceola counties the past two years.
On Wednesday Chief Judge Fred Lauten of the Ninth Judicial Circuit announced he would call a summit of law enforcement and juvenile justice stakeholders on Feb. 15 in an effort to make the number drop even more.
“There is clear improvement,” he said, but there is still a need to “get everyone in the room to talk about best practices.”
He spoke at a news conference by the League of Women Voters of Orange County, part of its second annual report on the status of juvenile civil citations, an alternative to arrests that holds non-violent juvenile offenders accountable but keeps them from having criminal records.
Also speaking at the event were Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings; Orlando Police Chief John Mina; State Attorney Aramis Ayala; and Public Defender Bob Wesley.
Because of civil citations and other diversions programs, hundreds of local juveniles have been spared arrest records. The proof can be seen in the decrease in numbers of new arrests for first-time misdemeanors.
In fiscal year 2014-15, some 1,666 juvenile offenders who were arrested in Orange and Osceola counties could have, instead, been given civil citations. The following year, that number dropped to 1,207. In fiscal 2016-17, it fell to 817.
Carol Davis, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County, said children need help from not just their parents but also the community, “We need a community of people who will wrap their arms around them and tell them they’re O.K. ‘You made a small mistake.’ They should be given a second chance.“
Diversion programs with meaningful consequences, such as civil citations, save tax payer dollars and improve the futures of children, Wesley said. The recidivism rate for civil citation offenders is four percent vs. nine percent for juveniles who are arrested.
“We found something that works,” Wesley said. “It’s good on all points.”
The most dramatic improvement in the use of civil citations last year in Orange and Osceola counties came in Apopka, where police gave them to 65 percent of underage offenders who were eligible vs. 33 percent the year before. In Kissimmee, the percentage last year was 63 percent, compared to 39 percent the year before.
At the Orange County Sheriff’s Office the percentage climbed to 44, up from 31 the prior year, according to numbers provided by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. At the Orlando Police Department is was 43 percent vs 38 percent.
Said Orlando Police Chief John Mina, “The last thing I want to do is arrest a kid.” When officers write a civil citation rather than arrest an underage offender it saves taxpayer money and allows officers to get back on the street more quickly, he said.
“We’re all in,” Mina said.
All those numbers are based on Department of Juvenile Justice data. But they are not the whole story. The Office of the State Attorney and law enforcement agencies have other diversion programs that provide consequences and also eliminate an arrest record.
Ayala in April launched a similar diversion effort, called “Project No-No.”
Between civil citations and it, 36 percent of the juvenile cases filed in Orange County this year have left juveniles without a criminal record.
“Those are numbers we are proud of,” Ayala said.
Appearing at Wednesday’s news conference were:
The Honorable Fred Lauten, chief judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit
Public Defender Bob Wesley
State Attorney Aramis Ayala
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings
Orlando Police Chief John W. Mina
Kissimmee Police Chief Jeffrey O’Dell
Osceola County Sheriff’s Office Major Ron Roberts
Apopka Police Chief Michael L. McKinley
Winter Park Police Chief Michael Deal
Orange County Public Schools Chief of District Police Bryan Holmes,
Osceola County School District Assistant Superintendent Randy Shuttera
Dewey Caruthers, president of Caruthers Institute, advocate for juvenile justice reform
Carol Davis, President, LWVOC