CLEVELAND - What do you do when 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds are committing the worst crimes known to man?
For the last year, the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Police Department have been working together to create a better approach to stopping youth from committing murders, assaults and robberies — to be proactive instead of reactive.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams calls it a “holistic” approach.
“It’s not just enforcement. Just locking people up and trying to throw away the key doesn’t really work,” Chief Williams said. “You have to look at some of those things that cause people, especially young folks, to want to commit crimes and be involved in that life.”
They’re trying to get everyone who touches a teen’s life involved — teachers, educators, healthcare workers and mental health professionals.
“We look at the education of kids, we look at their free time, and how we can better occupy that time and have better outcomes,” Chief Williams said. “It’s not every kid, it’s not the majority of kids, it’s a small group.”
The other piece is handled by Duane Deskins, former Cuyahoga County juvenile prosecutor. He is now head of the city’s Intervention, Prevention, and Opportunity for Youth division, which has just completed its first year in existence.
The goal is to break the cycle.
“In many ways it is a misnomer to look at violence as a correlation of how many homicides per 100,000. If you’re talking about violence reduction, the better calculation would be, how many opportunities are there per 100,000?” Deskins said.
Those opportunities are coming through help with jobs and the creation of programs like dance, art and chess clubs in recreation centers in the city.
Both Deskins and Williams are quick to point out that youth violent crime isn’t surging at the present time — and that it only affects a small portion of the city’s youth population.
“If you look at the numbers, 97 percent of the kids in this city, against tough odds, are doing everything we ask of them,” Deskins said.
The other piece of the puzzle that needs to be tackled is the easy access to guns.
“They’re everywhere,” Deskins said. “And I don’t think that we fully appreciate the fact that they’re everywhere and that they’re going to make bad decisions because they are young people, that’s what kids do.”
“If we don’t stem the tide of how many guns just flow through our cities every day, then you’re always going to have a 14-year-old that can have access to a weapon,” Chief Williams added.
Chief Williams said 2017 saw about 12 percent fewer shootings, with a slightly lower homicide total than 2016. As far as the first quarter of 2018 goes, he said they’re trying to get a foothold on some parts of the city that are starting to crop up, and working with federal, state and local partners in those areas.
Both men agree that the problems didn’t begin overnight, so the solutions won’t come overnight, either.
Four juveniles charged with aggravated murder with a gun, 43 charged with aggravated robbery with a gun, and three charged with felonious assault with a gun are currently incarcerated in the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center.
Other current statistics for the Cuyahoga Co. Juvenile Justice Center include:
Aggravated Murder Specific Intention with gun spec - 4