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Points system often determines if juvenile offenders do any time

The state of Washington has a number of laws in place, which police officers must enforce.

Some laws involve a juvenile points system that helps officers and the courts determine whether or not a juvenile offender is placed in detention.

"We can arrest someone for trying to steal a car or whatever...but, we have to check their record with the juvenile detention authorities to determine if the offender will be placed in detention," said Sunnyside Police Sergeant Jose Guillen.

He said officers would love to relieve the public from issues involving juvenile criminals, however many factors are involved in detaining juvenile criminals.

Probation officer Dan Behler of the Yakima County Juvenile Court system said youth offenses are graded according to an offense category. "There are felonies and misdemeanors," he said.

Using the example of a minor in possession of alcohol, a class "E" offense misdemeanor, he said a juvenile often faces local sanctions.

Behler said judges are afforded greater flexibility with the current sentencing grid, which breaks down the time served for offenses.

"This grid was implemented in the summer of 1988 and is much better than the old system," he stated, explaining the juvenile who was once charged with minor in possession faced minimal sentencing, but is now subject to up to 30 days confinement, 150 hours community service, fines and community supervision.

A juvenile charged with a "B+" felony, such as residential burglary, is now removed from the community and placed in a state facility, according to Behler.

Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder said a juvenile who has committed a misdemeanor, requiring local sanctions, is subject to the Local Community Accountability Board, which is comprised of community members who have received recommendations from Behler regarding particular offenses or offenders.

"The juvenile and the juvenile's parents meet with the board," explained Radder, stating the juvenile must explain their offense to the board.

The board bases its decision regarding the juvenile's restitution to the community on a number of factors, including the level of repentance and accountability at home.

Radder said Behler or another officer of the juvenile court system might recommend five hours of community service. However, the juvenile when facing the board may not exhibit remorse and the board can then sentence the offender to 20 hours of community service, according to Radder.

Guillen noted the Yakima County Juvenile Detention Center and court system has limited space and some juveniles are listed as being on community supervision, as determined by communication with the court system. The crime, if a misdemeanor, is referred for local sanctions.

"Ultimately, the supervisor on shift at the detention facility can look up a name to determine if a juvenile can be detained or if they are on supervision," he said, adding that officers can request a judge detain a particular offender if the juvenile has been contacted regularly.

"If we are dealing with them on a regular basis and they have been actively committing offenses, a judge can detain them," Guillen said.

He cited two offenses requiring mandatory detention. They include drive-by shootings and domestic assault.

Guillen said, "It is frustrating for officers because we are frustrated for the public...especially for the victims." He stated officers empathize with the victims of crime and understand how an offense can both cause fear and a feeling of being violated.

He said officers believe in educating families and parents of juvenile offenders, providing resources to assist in creating change.

"Some juveniles can choose to change. But, some do not choose to change," said Guillen.

He said every contact made by officers can affect the outcome of a juvenile's behavior.

"Unfortunately, there comes a time when some juveniles make their own choices and do what they want to," Guillen noted with sadness.

Radder said, "The kid (when going before the Local Accountability Board) may need to go to court if he walks in with a severe chip on his shoulder."

Guillen said lifestyle choices are ultimately up to the juvenile and parents often attempt to prevent poor lifestyle choices, meeting with resistance. "It isn't the fault of the parents because that particular child has chosen their own path," he said.

When a juvenile whom officers and or the board have had contact with does choose to change for the better and shares their accomplishments, Guillen said it can become a rewarding experience.

"It comes down to this...if people are unhappy with the juvenile system, they have the power to affect change and take the initiative in making changes within the legal system," he stated.

He said it is easy for the public to make judgements on the effectiveness of officers and the legal system. However, it is their responsibility and their right to become educated on the inter-workings of the system.

By becoming educated on the justice system and state laws, the public can work towards better enabling authorities to provide the services expected from police.

"Everything revolves around action and consequence," Guillen stated.

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