City’s youth crime still on track to surpass 2008

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 3, 2009

Fewer juveniles were arrested in Vicksburg in July than June, but cases are on track to surpass 2008.

“We aren’t very far behind from last year’s number,” said Lt. Bobby Stewart, who has been in Vicksburg law enforcement for 19 years and nearly three years as head of VPD investigations.

Teen crime

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The Vicksburg Police Department has released teen crime numbers. A breakdown of the data:




2009 (as of Friday)…..330

Arrests in 2009 (by month)








Types of arrests (in July)


Vehicle theft (felony)…..3

Simple assault…………..4

Possession of a firearm by a minor………………………..3

Drug charges (misdemeanor)     …………………………….2

Malicious mischief………1


Curfew and loitering….. 4

Other offenses………….11

With the start of school Tuesday, law enforcement officials are hoping for a decrease in the number of teen lawbreakers.

Teen arrests in July account for 14.8 percent of all arrests by Vicksburg police, or 330 since Jan. 1. In all of 2008, 395 juvenile cases were processed. The actual number of teens arrested is lower, since some teens were arrested several times.

May brought the highest number of cases, 71; and January the lowest, 21. Forty-nine juveniles were arrested in July, and 54 in June.

Walter Armstrong, the city’s new police chief with just three weeks on the job, said he wasn’t aware of the high number of juvenile arrests in the city, but plans to work with the community to see the number decrease.

“This is a process that’s not going to change overnight,” he said. “It’s going to take the community and different organizations to form strategies to come up with ways to help the youth.”

Sixteen of the defendants younger than 18 arrested in July face theft charges, and Stewart said the economy might be a reason.

“People can’t afford to buy everything they want or everything their children want,” he said, “so the children are resorting to shoplifting and some of it is as easy as $1.99 set of earrings to upwards of $50 pair of jeans.”

Stewart said those items are even more appealing when they’re left in the open, such as in an unlocked car.

Ricky Johnson, Warren County Youth Court prosecutor, agreed.

“We don’t want to try to look for excuses for children’s behavior, but a contributing factor is the economy,” he said. “I think that is a real impact, that the lack of opportunity may be playing a role.”

Johnson said, when he was a teenager, he knew he could look forward to a good job if he went to college — but high tuition and layoffs now leave teenagers without that hope.

A lack of long-term goals can be detrimental, Johnson said, and leave teens with little to look forward to or work toward.

Punishment for shoplifting is handled through the Warren County Youth Court in confidential proceedings. Probation and restitution are the standard penalties.

None of the teens arrested in July was accused of a violent crime. Auto burglary was the most serious, with disorderly conduct, trespassing and other crimes comprising the balance.

“A lot of kids have a lot of idle time,” said Dexter Jones, director of the Triumph Unit of the Boys and Girls Club. “Idle time is an opportunity to take up a lot of negative things.”

The program, which started in 2000, is open to grade school students and runs from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the summer and 3:30 to 5:30 or 6:30 during the school year. Jones said it will start at three days a week and eventually work up to five days.

The Boys and Girls Club is “an intervention,” Jones said, where kids and teens can work on homework, interact with their peers and come into contact with positive influences.

“The objective of the program was to enhance and develop the skills of the youth to prevent and deter them from allowing their lives to be wasted away with idle time,” Jones said.

Central Mississippi Prevention Service has a similar goal, said assistant director and office manager Emma Roberts.

“If we can catch them early and start pouring into them the importance of … doing well,” she said, “hopefully by the time they’re teenagers, their heads will be all straight.”

CMPS also has an after school program, from 3 to 6 p.m., where 5- to 17-year-olds can get help with their homework and participate in activities until their parents get off work. The program takes about 60 young people after school and enrolled at least 170 in this year’s summer program.

CMPS and the Boys and Girls Club are some of a handful of programs for children in Vicksburg, including Good Shepherd Community Center, Jackson Street Community Center and the YMCA.

Still, many people say there’s not enough to keep juveniles occupied and out of trouble.

Tasha Jones recognized the lack of options — especially while kids were home on summer break — and addressed the problem with helmets, pads and mouthpieces.

She, her husband and several other parents formed the Vicksburg Packers last year, three football teams and one cheerleading squad for 6- to 12-year-olds.

“That was one of our main reasons: In the summertime they’re here every evening, so once they finish up here they’re too tired to do anything else,” she said. “To keep them off the corners, ya know, bored … so that was one of our goals.”

The Packers have practices and games during the eight-week season, as well as picnics, movie nights and other events.

The fee is $65 for football players and $50 for cheerleaders, but Tasha Jones said they’re flexible if money is an issue.

While supervision is a good thing, not everyone is interested or able.

Rachel Hardy, Warren County Youth Court administrator, says she sees cases where the parent was a single teen who has had to work many hours or multiple jobs and turned over watching the children to parents or relatives, who just aren’t able.

“You can go on and on about all the people doing programs. The kids who want to do the programs will do the programs,” said former Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett. “Everybody needs to get involved — the entire community needs to get involved.”

Because juvenile arrests are higher in months when schools have breaks, Moffett suggested a push to make school year-round. “That is a heck of a program right there — learning,” he said.

Johnson said many cases are different.

“There are many areas of influence that affect children’s behavior — and that’s what we’re talking about, behavior,” he said. “(But) there’s a certain percentage that’s not going to change their behavior, even if we offer the best treatment. We don’t know the magic combination of things to fix them … and some of them won’t get fixed.”

City Hall is trying another tack. The new administration has developed the Mayor’s Youth Coalition Committee composed of representatives from different city agencies with the goal of being a voice for the community’s youth in honing leadership skills and building self-esteem.

Through the committee, which is in its beginning stages, the city’s youth will have the opportunity to speak directly to the mayor and express their thoughts and opinions.

The police department also has its own youth division, where Sgt. Randy Blake is in charge of handling and counseling young adults who get into trouble.

“They have many reasons, but the biggest reason young kids get into trouble is they just wanted to do it,” said Blake. “They just want to fit in and some of them just want to be tough. The majority of the ones I deal with do have some caring parents, but some parents can’t be with them all the time such as parents who work two jobs or in single-parent homes.”

Blake, who has been over the division for two years, believes preventive measures can be taken before a young adult commits more serious crimes.

In addition to the youth division, the VPD also has three school-resource officers, certified uniformed police officers who are assigned to be on campus at the high school.

School resource officer Cleon Butler said the main crime committed at school is theft of cell phones and MP3 players. He said the school has a policy that bans the items from campus.

Vicksburg’s city-wide curfew law for the school year will be in effect tonight. Students must be in their homes by 10 p.m. weekdays and by midnight Fridays and Saturdays.