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Juvenile Arrests Down, but Reason Remains Obscure

February 17, 1985|DONNA ST. GEORGE | Times Staff Writer

Posing as newspaper carriers, two teen-agers rang doorbells at dozens of homes in the Moneta Gardens neighborhood of Hawthorne. If residents answered, they were asked to subscribe to a South Bay newspaper, for which the youths said they could win a trip to Disneyland.

If no one answered, the teen-agers broke windows and cut through screens. During a string of 14 burglaries, they accumulated about $10,000 in stolen goods--including calculators, rings and necklaces, computer games, piggy banks, even soda pop.

The Moneta Gardens burglaries, for which the youths were convicted, occurred more than a year ago, police said.

But according to police records and interviews with local law enforcement officials, arrests of juveniles have become far less frequent in the South Bay.

Indeed, seven of nine South Bay communities that have traditionally booked the most juveniles have reported significantly fewer arrests. Among these areas, only El Segundo has had an increase in its arrest rate, with a 41% hike since 1982.

Decrease in 2 Cities

The biggest drop in arrests for this group of South Bay cities have been reported from Inglewood, with a 33.6% decrease from 1982 to 1984, and Carson, with a 32.6% drop.

Closely trailing those arrest reductions--according to statistics obtained in a Times survey of 19 South Bay communities--are Redondo Beach with a 28.2% decline, Lennox with 26.5% and Hawthorne with 24.7%.

And even among such communities as Torrance and Gardena where arrests increased during the last year, 1984 figures remain lower than their 1982 counterparts. Compared with that year, juvenile arrests have dropped 7.6% in Torrance and 12.9% in Gardena.

"There aren't any hard and fast answers about why the arrest rate is down," said Inglewood's Lt. Tony Walker. "There are a number of possible explanations, including the national trend. The crime rate has gone down everywhere, and we're probably part of that."

FBI figures do show that juvenile arrests were lower nationally for the last two years compiled, 1983 and 1982, than for any of the four previous years. But according to South Bay law enforcement officials and some juvenile crime specialists, spotting the trend is a much easier task than explaining its cause.

Hard to Pinpoint

"It's a trend that's been taking place in the city, the state and the country," said Malcolm Klein, a University of Southern California sociology professor and juvenile delinquency specialist. "It's probably safe to say that there are three or four things going on, but it's very difficult to put your fingers on any one factor."

At least one factor might be that fewer young lawbreakers are being arrested. Klein said that different procedures in juvenile booking, decreased sizes of police departments or altered patrol patterns could affect the statistics.

He also points out that the general juvenile population has decreased. "There aren't as many of them to commit offenses," he said.

In addition, Klein and South Bay law enforcement officials say that a more punitive approach to criminal justice by law enforcement agencies, the recent emergence of such community programs as Neighborhood Watch and better economic times may have contributed to the arrest decline.

"Neighborhood Watch has helped us (cut down) on neighborhood burglaries," said Hawthorne Detective Mike Heffner. "People are calling us when a guy ties his shoe wrong. It's like having mini police stations throughout the city: Residents have become our eyes. The community programs and a general public awareness have helped a great deal."

Public Involvement

Said Captain Bob Wilber of the Lennox Sheriff's Station, "There are numerous factors that could explain the reduction, like socioeconomic conditions and the fact that more hard-core criminals are being kept behind bars. Also, the public has gotten involved in law enforcement. I think there's been a change in attitude: People are saying, 'Enough is enough.' People are more willing to report crime and confront perpetrators."

Along with with these factors, many say the emergence of cooperative anti-truancy programs between law enforcement agencies, local governments and school districts--like Carson's Operation-Stay-in-School and Inglewood's Project HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Education)--has helped contribute to a reduction in juvenile arrests.

"Prior to Project HOPE, a lot of juveniles ended up getting booked in the station," said Inglewood's Walker. "We think this program has been pretty effective in getting kids off the streets during school hours, which has probably had an effect on burglaries. If truants go unattended, they can be committing crimes. This gives them less opportunity."

In addition to anti-truancy programs, the creation during the last several years of other youth diversion and counseling programs in the South Bay has contributed to the drop in juvenile arrests, some say.

Many Intangibles

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