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    Salisbury Police and juvenile court system working towards fully-collaborative, streamlined approach

    By Robert Sullivan,

    28 days ago

    SALISBURY — The Salisbury Police Department and the juvenile court system have begun to sit down and have conversations about how best to connect their interests, a conversation both sides say has been happening for a while but has recently become more pressing.

    One of the main solutions that has come out of the conversation is for the police department to have one officer that is entirely dedicated to working with the North Carolina Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and following up whenever necessary.

    Salisbury Police Chief P.J. Smith said that the idea is still in the preliminary stages, but that all sides agree that it would be a good move. Both Smith and District Court Judge Beth Dixon, who presides over juvenile delinquency court, said that it would be best to have one point of contact that fully understands the juvenile system and how best to help the children in the system. The position would be filled from inside the department.

    Smith and Dixon said that some of the disconnect between the department and the juvenile system could come from the fact that police officers are trained to handle adults more than juveniles. When an adult is arrested, the officer typically takes them to the magistrate’s office, puts them in the detention center and then lets the court system take over. With a juvenile, the officer first makes contact with the juvenile, at which point an initial juvenile contact report is submitted. Then, as long as the crime is not violent or involves major property damage, the juvenile is released to the custody of a parent or guardian, Dixon said. After releasing the juvenile, the officer then needs to file a complaint with a juvenile court counselor.

    That last step is where the single point of contact for the entire department would enter the equation, Smith said. Instead of requiring the initial officer, who may be called to four or five other calls immediately after releasing the juvenile, file the complaint, that one officer could take the contact reports and information and communicate with the counselors and juvenile justice about what is necessary on a case-by-case basis.

    Part of the recent communication issues arose because of recent turnover in relevant positions, Dixon said. The two juvenile court counselors that had the most contact with the police department recently moved on from the Rowan court system, one to retirement and the other to another county. On the law enforcement side, Smith stepped into the chief position in July of 2023 and Major Justin Crews was promoted to his position in December of 2023. The Salisbury Police Department also formerly had a dedicated juvenile officer, but that person was shuffled around to fill other needs, Smith said.

    Both Smith and Dixon agreed that the purpose of the juvenile justice system was not simply to punish offenders, but instead to help them become responsible adults.

    “The public wants us to be tough on crime and many think we’re not tough on crime if we don’t put somebody in jail. We have a different way of thinking about it, we think we are being tough on crime by being smart on how we deal with crime,” said Dixon.

    Smith shared a story about close family friends whose teenaged child had broken the law. Smith said that the parents were angry with their kid and said jail would be acceptable to them, but when they asked for his advice, he told them to go through with the counselor-ordered teen court participation. Teen court is one of the ways the juvenile system can divert a disciplinary hearing, where fellow teenagers act as the juries, attorneys, bailiffs and more.

    Instead of that teenager being committed to a detention center, which both Dixon and Smith often called “criminal university,” and having a criminal record, they have moved on and bettered their life.
    “What we need to think about is, are we making a bad situation worse or are there other avenues we can take to help?” said Smith.

    Dixon also shared information about how the juvenile justice system works and refuted some common misconceptions.

    Once the delinquency, which alleges a criminal offense, or undisciplined, which alleges that the youth is out of control of the home, complaint comes before the juvenile justice counselor, they have a few options. They can offer the juvenile to a diversion, they can refer them to court or they can close the complaint. Diversions are alternatives to putting the child through the court system, which include options such as substance abuse treatment, restitution programs, counseling and teen court. Certain felonies cannot be diverted, such as murder, sexual offenses, felony drug offenses and any felony resulting in serious bodily injury to another person or that was committed with the use of a deadly weapon.

    The points that officers said previously caused their detention requests to be denied are not the same points that are used in juvenile court, but rather an internal scoring system that Dixon says helps remove biases from the initial review process. Instead, the public points system is used to determine the disposition status of a offender in juvenile court.

    A large reason the juvenile system attempts to avoid detention, Dixon said, is that juveniles are not permitted to receive bail. Whereas an adult that has been charged could theoretically post bail and never be placed into a detention center, the juvenile will be in the center until his case is decided. She said that counselors also attempt to avoid it due to the “criminal university” nickname, which she said refers to studies that show jail can increase the recidivism rate for juveniles.

    Dixon’s last reason was the cost of detention. It costs $244 a day, with half being paid by the county and half being paid by the state, to house a juvenile.

    One of the main differences in the juvenile system is that the court has jurisdiction over the parents or guardians of the juvenile. Dixon said that she can order a guardian to enter into family therapy if it is needed or even order them to undergo substance abuse treatment if she believes the child is emulating the guardian’s issues. That jurisdiction over a child’s guardians is part of a trauma-informed system, which both Dixon and Smith said comes from careers of data analysis and outside of research.

    Recently reported increases in violent crimes by juveniles is not a local phenomenon, both Smith and Dixon said. The statistics are increasing throughout the county, which both said is still being researched on a national level.

    “There’s definitely some things that are up, but compared to other cities our size and larger that are up, they’re a lot higher. Even if ours are lower, it is still a concern and we are addressing it,” said Smith.

    The post Salisbury Police and juvenile court system working towards fully-collaborative, streamlined approach appeared first on Salisbury Post .

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