Juvenile arrests in the Keys trending downward

Arrests of juveniles in Monroe County are down across the board since 2010, according to state Department of Juvenile Justice data.

The number of juvenile intake arrests, felonies and misdemeanors combined, are down almost 39 percent, from 365 arrests in 2010-11 to 224 arrests in 2013-14. The Keys saw 197 such arrests in 2011-12 and 236 arrests in 2012-13.

Monroe County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Becky Herrin said a possible reason for the decrease is a juvenile diversion program, which is meant to keep kids away from the criminal justice system. The Department of Juvenile Justice has contracted with the Sheriff's Office for that since 2010.

The program allows officers to divert kids from being arrested by issuing them civil citations when called for. Herrin said what happens after is on a case-by-case basis, including whether the juvenile's parents pay restitution for any damage or theft, or the youth serves community service.

So as the juvenile arrest numbers have dropped across the Keys, the civil citations have increased. Herrin said the Sheriff's Office starting reorganizing the program and pushing it countywide when the DJJ started funding it in 2010. Hence, more citations.

The Sheriff's Office had more than double the number of civil citations issued in 2013-14, with 105, compared to the 45 citations it issued in 2011-2012. The Sheriff's Office issued 85 citations in 2012-13.

"It certainly is coincidental," Herrin said. "The crime is taking place, but we're diverting the kids."

Key West Police Chief Donie Lee said the decline in juvenile arrests is indicative of a larger pattern.

"It's not a surprise. It's representative of the national and local reduction in crime," he said.

Overall, incidents of major crimes dropped by 5.9 percent for the Sheriff's office and 8.3 percent in Key West Police Department jurisdiction, according to data released in February by both agencies.