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Juvenile experts say jobs reduce youth violence, crimes and substance use

Editor’s Note: This article is the beginning of an on-going series diving into the various crime statistics for the City of Sidney, Cheyenne County and its surrounding communities. The Sun-Telegraph plans to print additional layers of this series at least twice a month on a bi-weekly basis.

CHEYENNE COUNTY – According to data provided by local law enforcement, Sidney and Cheyenne County are on track to see more juvenile criminal problems in 2023 than in years prior, including at its most recent height in 2021.

According to Sidney Police Department (SPD) there have already been 109 juvenile crime cases in Sidney and according to Cheyenne County Sheriff Office (CCSO), there have been nearly as many in the other areas of the county for a combined total of 223 juvenile criminal cases from January 1, through July 10.

“Juvenile delinquency problems typically increase in the summer months,” SPD Chief Joe Aikens explained. “It's a known problem across the nation and it's something we are all working on to address together.”

The juvenile delinquency problems range from minor things like loitering, graffiti, trespassing, being out past legal or enforceable statutory curfew, and/or minor intoxication. Some major juvenile delinquency problems include aggravated assault, battery, robbery, larceny theft, drug abuse and handling of weapons by a prohibited person or minor.

According to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Department through the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), housed inside the U.S. Department of Justice, roughly 76% of the nation reports various juvenile delinquency problems leading to a juvenile conviction; this rate increases by no less than roughly 6% each summer. Of the national report, Nebraska hovers just under half of the national average reporting 43% of Nebraskan youth are engaged in juvenile delinquent behaviors.

According to a 2021 OJJDP report, in 2020, Nebraska reported 54 juvenile aggravated assault convictions, 64 juvenile robbery convictions, 615 juvenile larceny theft convictions, 456 juvenile drug abuse convictions, and 65 illegal use of and/or possession of weapons convictions.

According to local law enforcement, Cheyenne County and Sidney reported very few major juvenile-related cases comparatively and 223 minor juvenile cases, with very few arrests or convictions. Disclaimer: the Sun-Telegraph is not reporting the extremely low number of violent or major felonious juvenile cases to preserve the identity of minors involved, which includes victims per the Associated Press guidelines.

According to data provided by Cheyenne County Sheriff Office (CCSO) and Sidney Police Department (SPD), there were 108 juvenile cases reported in 2020, of which only 20% lead to a juvenile conviction according to the county court reports. In 2021, the area reported 148 juvenile cases, which 15% lead to a juvenile conviction; in 2022, the community reported 118 juvenile cases, which 11% lead to a juvenile conviction; and so far in 2023, 109 juvenile cases have been reported and currently only 7% have lead to a juvenile conviction.

When interviewed and asked about it, Chief Aikens explained the majority of these cases were minor incidents, such as petty larceny, theft, trespassing, minor altercations, drug use and intoxication.

OJJDP, SPD and CCSO indicate the number of juvenile related cases routinely increase during the summer when kids are out of school due to a number of factors, including a lack of available youth programs.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the local Nebraska DOJ office and local authorities, violent juvenile crimes increase by 35% in the summer months between the school years.

Youth-committed violent crimes tend to occur between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. – when often, there are little to no youth-related programs or activities within a community, according to both the DOJ and OJJDP and notes local law enforcement have been keeping in recent years.

In 2022, Nebraska DOJ reported the majority of criminal activity in the summer is related to youth and minors and has since then began creating juvenile alternative programs to divert criminal activities, which is already boosting success in neighboring states, such as Wyoming, South Dakota and parts of Kansas.

“It's a small town, small community – so, kids get bored easily,” Aikens explained. “We're lucky we aren't seeing the major violent crimes in our city or county the way neighboring communities are.”

When comparing federal, state and local data to surrounding communities, or similarly-sized communities, Sidney and Cheyenne County reports slightly more than half that of its neighbors. The vast majority of juvenile criminal activity in Sidney and Cheyenne County is related to substance use/abuse and minor altercations – followed by larceny/theft, trespassing and public nuisance, in that order.

According to Aikens, with 2023 being a little more than slightly halfway over, his department believes 2023 could record the highest number of juvenile delinquency cases than in years past. The highest in recent years was 148 cases in 2021, which local, state and national authorities believe was compounded by events, closures and disruption of daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July 1, there had been 109 juvenile calls in Sidney and an additional 114 within the county.

Per the data provided to the Sun-Telegraph, broken down by month, from SPD, the city recorded 11 juvenile delinquency calls in January, 15 juvenile delinquency calls in February, 22 juvenile delinquency calls in March, 31 juvenile delinquency calls in April and 30 juvenile delinquency calls in May. Data for June and July were not available at time of publishing and will be included in a future, follow-up Sun-Telegraph story.

Data provided by local and state legal and law enforcement authorities indicate there is a decline in overall criminal activity inside Cheyenne County and the City of Sidney, especially notable among adults aged 18 years old and older, however, there has been an increase of criminal activity among youth aged 17 years old and younger.

Disclaimer: although the Sun-Telegraph was provided with a breakdown of juvenile cases by age and gender along with other potentially identifying demographics, the newspaper is withholding that information per the Associated Press guidelines to preserve the identity of minors, including victims of these cases.

However, the data does indicate a higher, disproportionate percentage of juvenile criminal behaviors are committed by young men.

“Unfortunately, we see the number of juvenile criminal cases increasing, however, at this time, it is largely due to uncontrolled substance usage – such as alcohol and drugs,” Aikens told the Sun-Telegraph in a follow up interview.

The Nebraska DOJ reported, in June 2023 for 2022, drug use among youth in eighth through twelfth grad has increased by 61% from 2021 to 2022. Of the twelfth graders who completed a self-reporting survey, roughly 62% of high school seniors in Nebraska say they have abused alcohol. Comparatively speaking, Nebraska DOJ reported roughly 50% of Nebraskan youth have “misused” a drug at least once within the previous 12 month span; a number the department and state health officials believes is steadily inclining and leading to a higher occurrence of youth-related criminal activity.

In fact, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS), in its most recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report:

Roughly 1-in-4 high schoolers use marijuana – or roughly 25.4% of Nebraskan high schoolers;

Roughly 5.2% of Nebraskan youth report using synthetic marijuana;

Roughly 3% of Nebraskan high schoolers reported having ever used methamphetamine;

Roughly 4.1% of Nebraskan high schoolers reported having ever used cocaine;

Roughly 6% of Nebraskan high schoolers reported having ever used inhalants;

Roughly 3.9% of Nebraskan high schoolers reported having ever used ecstasy;

Roughly 2.1% of Nebraskan high schoolers reported having ever used heroin;

Roughly 3.5% of Nebraskan high schoolers reported having ever used steroids; and

Roughly 14.3% of Nebraskan high schoolers reported having ever used prescription pain medications in appropriately.

That same report indicates roughly 36% of Nebraskan youth reported having ever drank alcohol and of that 36%, roughly 23% reported they have abused alcohol. NDHHS reported these occurrences spike during the summer months and attribute the spike to a lack of youth programs or available youth jobs during the summer months, more notable in western Nebraska and smaller, rural communities, such as Sidney.

Due to potentially identifying demographics provided by the state, the Sun-Telegraph also will not publish those findings per Associated Press guidelines, as that data could potentially identify youth seeking help for substance use and not criminally charged.

“A simple fix, in my opinion, is finding organizations that can facilitate youth-related activities in the late afternoons and early evenings, the time before parents get home from work, or create job opportunities for those willing to work,” Aikens added. “We have noted the youth in our area who are plugged into various youth organizations and/or have a job, are less likely to commit criminal activities.”

In fact, the Nebraska DOJ and NDHHS reported that youth who are employed during the summer months (or other school breaks) commit an exceptionally low rate of crimes, nearly unmeasurable, according to both agencies.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) 2022 report aligns with the data provided by the state, county and local legal or law enforcement agencies. When compared to the rest of Nebraska, Sidney and Cheyenne County remain among the lowest for frequency, rate of and number of violent crimes committed by youth. The FBI report ranks Cheyenne County and the City of Sidney as 37 out of 93 on the list for “safest” regions to live in inside Nebraska; with 1,967.3 total crimes per 100,000 people, which is 16.14% below the national average and roughly 12.2% below the average of similarly-sized cities across the nation.

According to the FBI UCR, Cheyenne County and the City of Sidney crime rates are half that of the rates across Nebraska itself. A future Sun-Telegraph will detail the total crime from this report and local reports in a future edition.

Despite youth criminal behaviors being on the incline throughout Nebraska, including in Cheyenne County and Sidney, the rate of occurrence remains far below the national standard and youth violent crimes remain remarkably lower. The prevailing crime among local youth typically involves substance abuse, minor altercations with family, friends or community members, and small amounts of theft and/or larceny. For more information, visit the NDHHS, Nebraska DOJ, U.S. DOJ, OJJDP, FBI UCR websites or stop in to chat with Chief Aikens or CCSO Sheriff Adam Frerichs for local details.

In future editions, the Sun-Telegraph will report more details related to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report and other types of criminal activity in the county and city as this is an on-going series.


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