Committee on the Judiciary, Metropolitan Police Department Oversight Hearing

Testimony of R. Daniel Okonkwo, Executive Director, DC Lawyers for Youth

Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. My name is R. Daniel Okonkwo and I am the Executive Director of DC Lawyers for Youth. Among our core values at DCLY is the belief that one of the best ways to improve the local juvenile justice system is to invest in youth early so that they do not become court-involved in the first place. As a result, I am here today to support the Metropolitan Police Department’s goal of reducing the incidence of juvenile violent crime through early investment, provide additional context to the data on juvenile violent arrests reported in MPD’s February 2011 letter to this Committee, and make a few recommendations.

Trends in Juvenile Arrests

Using arrest data obtained from the Metropolitan Police Department, we conducted an analysis of juvenile arrest trends in the District.[1] The data shows positive trends regarding juvenile crime that should always be included in any discussion of juvenile crime in the District, but that are unfortunately often ignored in favor of more “attention-grabbing” negative trends. I implore both MPD and this Committee to get into the habit of publicly touting the positive trends together with the negative trends as such a practice will result in a better-informed public and more effective public policy.

First and foremost, the data shows that overall juvenile arrests decreased approximately 9% between 2009 and 2010 and that adults (individuals over the age of 18) actually were arrested far more frequently than juveniles (individuals 10 to 17) in 2010. Indeed, while juveniles made up approximately 8% of the District population, juveniles only comprised 7% of all arrests in the District in 2010. In contrast, adults made up about 81% of the population but 93% of all arrests.

Second, juvenile arrests for serious offenses (i.e., Part I offenses)[2]decreased almost 21% between 2007 and 2010. The decline in juvenile arrests for Part I offenses came primarily from large decreases in juvenile arrests for aggravated assault (down 28%), unauthorized use of a vehicle (UUV) (down 62%), and theft/larceny (down 7%). In fact, juvenile arrests for serious Part I offenses decreased to the point that,in 2010, over 98% of District youth between the ages of 10 and 17 were NOT arrested for a serious Part I offense.

Despite these positive trends, MPD is correct that the number of juvenile arrests in the aggregated category of violent offenses[3]has increased over the last few years. However, as MPD stated in its February 14, 2011 letter to this Committee, “its important to look at the details.” When the data on juvenile arrests for violent offenses is broken down by offense, it becomes evident that the increase in juvenile arrests for violent offenses can be attributed almost exclusively to an increase in juvenile arrests for robbery. Between 2007 and 2010, juvenile arrests for aggravated assault decreased 28%, and juvenile arrests for homicide and rape/sexual abuse remained relatively flat. Meanwhile, however, juvenile arrests for robbery increased substantially (almost 48%) and now account for approximately 69% of all arrests of juveniles for violent offenses. Thus, when MPD states that juvenile arrests for violent offenses have increased, it’s not that juveniles are increasingly being arrested for all types of violent offenses, but that a recent spike in juvenile arrests for robbery has overshadowed the decreases in juvenile arrests for all other violent juvenile offenses.

Providing the positive trends while correctly framing the negative trend as an increase in juvenile robbery arrests not an increase in juvenile violence generally is important for a two reasons. First, the more we talk about juvenile violence without qualifying it within the proper context, the more the public becomes frightened of our District’s young people. This is not fair to thealmost 99% of District juveniles were not arrested for a violent offense last yearand counterproductive to the extent that it deters people from engaging DC youth in positive relationships. Second, by narrowing the issue to the true concerning trend – an increase in juvenile robbery arrests – we can better study the data, identify the root causes of the trend, and collaboratively create an early investment/intervention strategy that works to reverse this trend.[4]

Before I close, there is one other trend that we have identified worth mentioning and worth additional study. According to MPD arrest data, between 2007 and 2010, juvenile arrests for the “other misdemeanors”[5]arrest category increased 122%, from 555 arrests in 2007 to 1,233 arrests in 2010, and arrests in this category now account for 33% of all juvenile arrests. The causes behind this increase in arrests for “other misdemeanor” offenses should be carefully studied to understand why so many youth are getting arrested for “other misdemeanors.”

Closing Remarks:

We echo Chief Lanier’s belief that juvenile crime is a complex issues with a variety of root causes. We hope to work with MPD, the Council, and community based service providers to create a comprehensive early investment strategy to reduce the number of youth arrests and improve outcomes for our District’s youth. Our recommendations are listed below. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I am available to answer any questions this Committee may have.

Recommendations:

Include both positive and negative trends regarding juvenile arrest trends as well as bigger picture context when discussing and creating public policy;

  1. Further analyze the MPD arrest data regarding juvenile arrests for robbery in an effort to determine root causes;
  2. Engage the community in a collaborate early investment strategy to reduce juvenile robberies;
  3. Further analyze the MPD arrest data regarding juvenile arrest for “other misdemeanors” in an effort to determine the nature of these arrests and their root causes;
  4. Engage the community in the creation and implementation of the “JuvenileStat” program and ensure that this data provides both positive and negative trends as well as overall context;
    1. JuvenileStat should not be used to widen the net and pull additional youth into the juvenile justice system;
    2. While JuvenileStat should be reported publicly on a regular basis (ideally monthly), the confidentiality of youth should be strictly maintained;
    3. JuvenileStat data should be collected and analyzed with an eye to providing services to needy communities and improving front-end service provision and delivery.

[1]See“Juvenile Arrest Trends in the District of Columbia (2007-2010),” DCLY Issue Brief, January 2011 (attached); “Comparison of Juvenile, Young Adult, and Adult Arrests in the District of Columbia (2010),” DCLY Issue Brief, March 2011 (attached).

[2]Part I offenses include aggravated assault, arson, burglary, homicide, rape, robbery, UUV, and larceny/theft.

[3]Violent offenses include homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

[4]Please note, however, that early intervention should not mean increased incarceration and does not need to mean intervention through the judicial system. The juvenile justice system should not function as a de facto safety net. Moreover, we should not be widening the net of the juvenile justice system to include youth who are not a danger to the community but need substantial services from the District in order to become productive adults.

[5]The “other misdemeanors” arrest category includes the following charges: cruelty to animals; false statement – unemployment/ social security; allowing dangerous dogs to go at large; false alarm of fire; false charges of unchastity; false report of a crime to the police; kindling bonfires; wild animal, fishing license regulation; harbor regulations; other misdemeanors (not categorized); playing games in the street; possession of the implements of crime; obscene material – possession; misprisons by officer or jail employee; riot; sale of tobacco to a minor; taking property without right; threats to do bodily harm; stalking; unlawful entry on property; manufacturing, possession of explosive; and placing explosives with the intent to injury/destroy.