How do Southwest Florida law enforcement agencies handle juvenile offenders?
Juvenile arrests happen all the time.
Case in point, the Collier County Sheriff's Office made 1,954 physical arrests of juveniles between Jan. 1, 2017, and Sept. 24, 2019. In Lee County, the Cape Coral Police Department made 1,463 arrests, including 428 felony charges, during the same time frame.
Most go unnoticed by the public unless it involves a serious criminal charge or police overreach like in the case of two 6-year-olds arrested by now-former Orlando officer Dennis Turner.
One of the children Turner arrested on suspicion of battery was accused of throwing a temper tantrum and kicking a school staff member, USA Today reported.
More:A 6-year-old was arrested for battery after throwing a tantrum in class, grandmother says
The Orlando Police Department fired Turner last week after it determined he failed to follow its policy on juvenile arrests, which included the need for a supervisor to approve arrests for anyone under the age of 12.
The Naples Daily News submitted requests to law enforcement agencies in Southwest Florida to find out what policies and protocols, if any, were in place to handle juvenile offenders.
Whether the departments were accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and/or the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation, each has at least one policy.
All of the policies contain the same framework wherein law enforcement officers are required to use the "least coercive" alternatives deemed appropriate when dealing with juvenile offenders.
So what does that mean?
The Collier County Sheriff's Office's policy establishes the range, from least to most coercive, as:
- counsel, warn and release
- referral to a community program
- issuance of a notice to appear
- issuance of warning and traffic citations
- detain and transport.
Consistent with the least coercive policy, it establishes the requirement to defer offenders out of the juvenile justice system when possible.
For diversion to occur, the Sheriff's Office considers the nature of the offense as well as:
- mitigating circumstances
- the offender's record
- the availability and appropriateness of community-based rehabilitation and/or treatment programs.
CCSO policy states detainment may be used when there is probable cause that a felony has occurred or the juvenile has committed a misdemeanor offense in the presence of a deputy.
The Naples Police Department has three different policies (Procedures, Civil Citations and Notices to Appear) that relate to juveniles.
Its policies establish criteria for what officers should consider before determining a course of action for the offender.
The factors are:
- nature of the offense
- age (Involvement may have been precipitated by an older juvenile influence or other factors.)
- attitude (or mental position) of the juvenile with regard to a fact, state, or situation.
- officer's access to the parent or guardian
- Knowledge of previous records may be indicative of juvenile's attitude.
- Complainant or victim comments may be taken into account, especially for repetitive incidents.
- Gang affiliation may alter and accelerate the normal handling of a juvenile.
It also grants juveniles up to three civil citations as an alternative to an arrest, depending on the type of offense and other eligibility criteria.
Misdemeanors involving the possession or use of a firearm, exposure of sexual organs or behavior and offenses related to gang activity are not eligible for a citation.
For assault, battery, non-firearm weapons offenses and animal cruelty charges, a citation can only be issued if the victim, the juvenile's family and the state attorney's office give their approval.
The Marco Island Police Department did not respond to the Daily News' request for its juvenile policies.
Law enforcement agencies to the north have very similar policies.
The Lee County Sheriff's Office manual explicitly defines its success handling juvenile crime as "the number of kids we keep out of jail, not the number we put in jail" and encourages alternatives to arrest when appropriate.
"One little mistake in life can keep a kid who made that minimal mistake from getting a job and becoming a productive member of society as an adult," its policy states. "Issuing civil citations is a way to address misbehaving children who make those minimal legal transgressions without arresting them. Instead, they are cited and turned over to their parents; they are provided counseling and sentenced to community service. All of which grants a second chance to put their lives on the straight and narrow."
Its policies state there will be no arrest if a teenager has no criminal background and commits a nonviolent misdemeanor.
The Fort Myers Police Department follows the same guidelines for handling juveniles in Florida and adds that officers should consider any direction given by juvenile authorities.
One of its civil citation program's main differences is that a civil citation can be issued for any criminal misdemeanor offense.
If the circumstances warrant issuance of a citation in a domestic violence offense, battery, stalking, or no-contact order, the victim of the offense must approve of the issuance of the citation.
The eligibility criteria are also different.
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To receive a citation, the juvenile cannot have been arrested for a misdemeanor or felony in any jurisdiction. He or she also cannot receive a civil citation unless a previous one was issued more than two years ago and the officer believes the facts of the offense warrant a second civil citation.
The Cape Coral Police Department's policies dictate juvenile arrest based on the following criteria:
- a felony crime has been committed
- weapons offenses
- repeat offenders
- treatment or services are only available through the juvenile court system
- the juvenile's denial of involvement
- serious gang-related incidents
- the juvenile is on probation or parole
- the juvenile with cases pending
- the juvenile does not meet criteria for civil citation.