Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Oct. 4, 1999

Students are still safest in schools, officials say

By Andrea Vargo

Incidents of youth violence and vandalism appear in the nightly news reports or blast our senses with a barrage of gruesome pictures from the latest act of some troubled teen.

In the Howard Lake and Waverly areas, vandalism, not violence, is the chief problem, according to officials.

Tom Kelly, Wright County Attorney, stated that juvenile crime is on the increase in Wright County as a whole.

From 1993 to 1998, there was a 37 percent increase in juvenile matters being filed with the Wright County Courthouse as a whole, he said.

This includes everything: delinquencies, felonies, runaways, and other juvenile problems, said Kelly.

Serious juvenile felonies increased by 28 percent from 1993 to 1998.

"We are not out of whack with juvenile crime in the county. The same things happen now, as they did seven years ago.

"The population makes the difference in those percentages," said Kelly.

Also, the courts take a more aggressive stance towards juvenile offenders, as does law enforcement, he said.

The court system has improved, as far as Kelly is concerned, because now, a juvenile can be kept on probation until he/she is 21 years old.

If juvenile probation is broken, it is revoked, and adult probation kicks in, he said.

It is a huge monetary commitment by the county to commit a person to a juvenile facility. The county tries to get the juvenile certified as an adult, so it doesn't have to pay the costs for incarceration.

"Unfortunately, juvenile facilities like Sauk Centrehave been closing, so the only place we can send kids long term is to Red Wing," said Kelly.

Sometimes the juvenile facility at Red Wing is the choice that needs to be made, and the county does have to pay.

"Now we have a contract with Anoka for a secured facility for a kid with a trial pending," Kelly said.

There is a diversion program for the first-time offender, noted Kelly.

It is for the kids who have never been in trouble before. They get some type of consequence and are turned over to court services.

The kids and their parents are called in to meet with a probation officer. Perhaps restitution will be ordered by the courts, a letter of apology, community service, or all three, he said.

The juvenile must complete the requirements or go before a judge, said Kelly.

As a preventative measure, Kelly commented that he is trying to personally keep in touch with students in the schools.

He is trying to visit all the schools and give them a pep talk about the laws that concern them and about just being a good citizen.

According to a recent survey regarding school safety, students had some concerns, but generally felt safe in school.

Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School Board Member Richard Lammers is a police officer in the Buffalo Police Department.

He said all the agencies are pro-active, but when it comes to a serious event, the only thing that can be done is react.

"Something really serious has never happened in Wright County, but all departments are well prepared," Lammers said.

A student with a gun is a police matter, while a gas leak would be the fire department's turf, he said.

The fire department doesn't only put out fires, it responds to chemical or gas leaks and other emergency situations, said Lammers.

There has been increased training over the years for law enforcement officers, because an officer can make a mistake due to lack of training, and there are liability issues, he said.

"Wright County also has an emergency response team, which is a nice way of saying Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team," said Lammers.

Because the departments are still relatively small, they work well together. They know each other, he said.

Ounce of prevention

In order to head off violence or other problems with juveniles, Lammers encourages parents to talk to their kids.

"If you see any differences in general mood or disposition of your children . . . are they different? . . . talk to them," he said.

If your child is experiencing problems with another student, talk to the administration and teachers.

Don't be afraid to question your child, and if you don't get answers, get someone outside the family to talk with him/her.

Sometimes kids won't talk about something they have done, because they are afraid they will hurt their parents, said Lammers.

For the student who sees or hears something out of place, go to a person of authority. Contact a principal, a policeman, or other adult who might be able to make sense of a situation, said Lammers.

If a student hears about something that will take place after a game or in the parking lot, he/she should tell someone, he said.

"If we know there is a party with alcohol, we can get a warrant from a judge in the middle of the night," Lammers noted.

"We can go in and identify people and their age. Then we test and cite them, and their parents have to come get them," he said.

Schools are notified of a student's involvement with drugs or weapons, said Lammers.

The important thing to remember is that a only a small percent of the youth are creating the majority of the problems.

About 95 to 98 percent of the kids are really good, he said. It is a shame that any school can get labeled because of a few students, said Lammers.

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