Pubdate: Fri, 25 Mar 2005
Source: Stoney Creek News (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005 Brabant Newspapers
Bookmark: (Youth)


A focus on "hard-core" repeat offenders and successful pre-charge diversion 
programs are being credited for a 31 per cent decrease in youth crime in 
Hamilton since 1996.

Deputy Police Chief Ken Leendertse called the drop "a pleasant surprise" 
that defies public perceptions.

Only drug crimes - mostly involving marijuana - bucked the downward trend, 
more than doubling over the same period. Assaults, break-ins, car and other 
thefts all dropped by more than 50 per cent.

Overall, police statistics show 3,074 youths were involved in crimes last 
year, compared to 4,451 in 1996.

"There's always been the perception in Hamilton that youth crime is on the 
rise," Deputy Chief Leendertse said. "The perception is not really a 
reality. Youth crime is down. We know that crime across the city is down, 
but youth crime is even more down."

Deputy Chief Leendertse attributed the drop to a shift in police strategy 
in 1998 to concentrate enforcement efforts on the five per cent of youths 
who are repeat offenders.

The new Youth Criminal Justice Act, passed by Parliament in 2003, has also 
helped, allowing for pre-charge diversion programs that provide young 
offenders alternatives to custody, he said.

According to a report presented to the Hamilton Police Services Board, 58 
per cent of Hamilton youths participating in diversion programs have no 
further dealings with police.

Non-court measures can range from a police warning to a formal caution 
involving parents and a referral to a community agency.

"The philosophy behind the new legislation is in a restorative justice and 
giving people a second chance and not throwing the book at people," Deputy 
Chief Leendertse said.

"There's a recognition that young people are going to make mistakes along 
the way. The act has helped us address that, and so we've really put a lot 
more focus on diversion and pre-charge programs," he said.

"That's put people out of the criminal justice system and back into the 
community where they can learn from their mistakes but not have a criminal 

Police statistics show youths only account for a fraction of city crimes - 
from as little as two per cent for frauds to a high of 13 per cent for 
assaults. Offenders are far more likely to be male than females.

Among the 347 youth drug offences last year - a 109 per cent increase from 
1996 - 330 involved cannabis, all but 21 of them for possession.

Cocaine accounted for a further 15 offences, with "other" making up the balance.
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