Letters for the week of December 20-26, 2006 

Readers comment on crime in Alameda County, and John Mancini.

"The Unmaking of a Justice System," Feature, 11/15

Where's the data?
In Kathleen Richards' article, we note a number of unfortunate declarations that are unsupported by easily accessible data. Ms. Richards' article could be summarized as the misguided abdication of responsibility by many officials in the mistaken belief that "nothing works." Responses to juvenile crime do work, but it's necessary to get the facts straight to ensure that efforts can be successful. Juvenile crime is often misperceived, and this can lead to emotional statements that are not supported by the numbers.

While we understand that Alameda County has suffered far too many homicides (one is too many) and a high degree of crime, Ms. Richards provides no data in her article to support the contention that juvenile crime is on the rise. She writes that "there has been an overall increase in juvenile violence" according to the Oakland Police spokesman, and that many adults have juvenile histories. The latter comment has little to do with the current trend in juvenile crime, and the first comment appears to be anecdotal, especially in light of data compiled by the Criminal Justice Statistics Center, a research branch of the California Attorney General's office, indicating that overall juvenile crime has decreased over the last five years.

Ms. Richards goes on to mention the high robbery and burglary numbers over the last two years, and provides a quote from the District Attorney that robbery by juveniles of adults is "now sport." Additionally, an Oakland police officer mentions that juvenile crime is now "more off the hook." But where are the numbers? Had Ms. Richards researched the numbers, she would not have written that the "vast majority" of Alameda robberies have been committed by juveniles. In fact, according to the Criminal Justice Statistics Center, over the last five years, in Alameda, the number of arrests of juveniles for felony robbery has remained fairly constant at about 360. This represents 39 percent of the total felony robbery arrests for the county.

Increased and improved rehabilitative programs are certainly necessary. Detention must be only a part of a continuum of services available to assist youth who break the law, and it should be used only for the highest-risk offenders. The bulk of Ms. Richards' article will hopefully serve the community by highlighting the needs to properly fund both detention and incarceration alternatives and community programs so that youth can fully appreciate the impacts of offending while gaining skills and support to avoid offending in the future. It is not acceptable, however, to print assertions about a rise in juvenile crime that is not borne out by the facts.
Megan Corcoran, director of policy and communications, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, San Francisco

Kathleen Richards responds
Numbers alone don't tell the complete story on the current trend in juvenile crime in Oakland and Alameda County, and that's why I used anecdotal evidence from those who are involved in the juvenile justice system. Juvenile arrest rates reveal only how many juveniles are being arrested for crimes, not how many are actually committing crimes. Arrest rates are not accurate measurements in this case because they don't reveal how police officers have been discouraged from arresting juveniles: there are fewer officers on the job, more paperwork involved, and policies that have moved away from punishing offending juveniles. While I mention the decline in juvenile arrest rates statewide, I also give numbers on the rise in reported crimes in Oakland. Since arrests are not always made for each crime, it's impossible to tell how many juveniles are committing these crimes.

The most revealing number cited in my article was that the number of juvenile arrests fell by more than 50 percent in Oakland after the police department closed its juvenile intake desk last year. Debbie Fallehy, who handles the department's uniform crime reports, said this drop was a direct result of the closure of the intake desk. I strongly believe in using numbers to back up claims, but in this case, it was necessary to look behind the numbers to get an accurate picture of why juvenile crime is on the rise.

"Shock & Awe," Water Cooler, 11/22

Screwed for his good deed
Don't you think John Mancini possibly had a psychotic event due to the ongoing frustration with having creditors calling and not being compensated for the injury he suffered? His medical bills are mounting and he has no income to pay for them. He signed on with Procurement Services in good faith. When injured, he finds out that they do not carry the required workers' comp insurance. Now they are claiming that the company cannot afford to pay his medical expenses. How do they expect him to pay since he cannot work any longer? How can a company such as Procurement Services send American workers to a war zone and not think they will need insurance? This is flat-out neglect by Procurement Services.

His family is doing what we can, but I also cannot afford to pay his medical bills. John wanted to help rebuild Iraq and he basically got screwed by Procurement Services for his good deed. John is a basically good person, who, when wronged, shoots off his mouth. This is the first time he has actually acted on any of his threats. John also does not have any memory of the days leading up to and including the fateful day of October 6, 2006. He has also related to me that he has had many flashbacks to his time in Iraq, and possibly Procurement Services is liable for this as well.
Susan Mancini, Phoenix, Arizona

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