Teen crimes end ’09 at nearly twice the number as in ’08

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 11, 2010

Teen arrests in Vicksburg in the second half of 2009 followed the trend begun in the first half — jumping to nearly double 2008 figures.

In all of 2009, the city recorded 663 arrests of people younger than 18 for misdemeanors and felonies. The number was 395 in 2008 and 304 in 2007. Some were arrested multiple times and some face multiple counts.

The situation appears to be an urban problem. Warren County outside the municipal limits recorded 106 arrests in 2009, nearly equal to the 103 in 2008 and 119 in 2007.

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Walter Armstrong, named Vicksburg police chief in July, said that despite the notable rise, he believes teen arrests for the city will decrease in the new year based on additional officers in the youth division and plans to offer more citywide youth activities.

“We have increased our juvenile division with three more officers,” he said. “And we are looking at implementing a youth activity for them to get involved.”

He credited the rise in teen arrests to repeat offenders and lack of accountability from parents.

“We’re putting pressure on the youths and the parents,” he said. “We’re looking for more accountability from people who are in charge of these kids.”

In 2009, the city saw 127 youth arrests for disorderly conduct, the largest category. Simple and aggravated assaults accounted for 108 of the annual total, and first-offense shoplifting accounted for 96 cases.

Sgt. Randy Blake, head of the youth division, said the economy and lack of community activity are factors.

“We need some kind of activity for them,” he said. “When they’re not in school, the kids are restless. Peer pressure is a big part of it, too.”

He said most of the troubled teens with whom he deals are from single-parent homes, where kids are left by themselves while the parent is away at work.

Teens are charged in the first of the three homicides in the city during 2009.

Roosevelt Dewayne Harris, 18; Kersey Young, 17; and Gemini Porter, 16 were accused of the March 15 killing of 25-year-old Antonio Turner while he was in a  parked car in the Rolling Acres subdivision. If tried and convicted of murder, the teens will face sentences of life in prison without parole. Porter’s trial is set for Feb. 22. No dates had been set for the other two.

A teen was the victim in the city’s third homicide of the year. Terry Robinson was 16 and a 23-year-old is charged with stabbing him.

Other juveniles involved in violent crimes in 2009 included high school basketball star Sha’Kayla Caples, 18, then a Warren Central senior, who was accused along with three other juveniles in a string of armed robberies and assault of pedestrians in downtown Vicksburg during the spring.

Caples; Deshawn Williams, 17; Jacorey Wright, 16; and Blake Reed, 17 were each arrested and charged with up to six reported armed robberies. They were all released on bond, and are awaiting grand jury action.

Under Mississippi law, most juvenile offenses are processed in youth court, the actions and records of which remain secret. Youthful offenders are also housed separately in a county detention facility. For some violent crimes, including robbery and murder, the age threshold is removed and cases are prosecuted as if the suspects were adults.

Blake said he believes increased police activity will result in less criminal activity.

“We’re getting out more in the community,” said Blake, who has been in the youth division for three years. “We’re doing a lot of preventive classes like sex education and safety.”

He also believes having school resource officers on public school campuses is beneficial to officers working on juvenile cases.

“They’re in school with these kids every day,” Blake said. “They know them and they get to know their habits. It’s better than having an officer dispatched and arriving on scene.”

One police officer is assigned to Vicksburg High, Vicksburg Junior High and Warren Central Junior High, and interviews are being conducted to hire one for Warren Central High School.

Latridia Chambers, Randy Naylor and Lawanda Mallet are joining the juvenile division. Armstrong and Blake are hoping to restart the city’s basketball program, which was cut this past summer due to funding. Blake said the turnout for the program, in which officers referee or play, was “unbelievable.” “We didn’t have any problems with those kids,” he said. “The crimes during the months we had it were reduced considerably.”

In the county, juvenile arrests were, as in the city, mostly for disorderly conduct with 51 arrests. Simple assault cases stood at 25 arrests and burglary was third with 14 arrests.

“As peace officers, our first mission and goal should be to prevent crime,” said Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace. “We make attempts by talking to youth groups and interacting with families in the community.”

He continued to say that while those attempts might not prevent every crime committed, early intervention and prevention are keys.

Unlike the city, the sheriff’s office does not have a juvenile department. Pace said all of his deputies work juvenile cases and all volunteer to mentor students.


Contact Manivanh Chanprasith at mchan@vicksburgpost.com