Originally created 07/05/97

Summer sees rise in teen crime



The endless summer: teens sleeping late, eating junk food, hanging out, looking for amusement, growing bored.

Finding trouble.

"Summertime is one of our worst periods," said Sgt. Tim Pearson of the North Augusta Department of Public Safety. "Just in the past week, we've had several bicycles taken, or attempts to take bikes."

Mostly it's misdemeanor crime such as shoplifting, theft and vandalism, but the increase is marked enough that many police departments try to increase the visibility of officers and even change patrol patterns.

"When there's nothing but time on their hands, we definitely see an increase," said Chief Deputy Ronald Strength of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department. "And it's not one area of the county. Kids are everywhere, so we don't have one area that's any worse than the other."

During summer vacation, youngsters admit, they lapse into a nirvana of lying around, watching TV, riding their bikes and hanging out. That aimlessness sometimes worries 10-year-old Alexis Newton when she looks at her friends.

"Sometimes, they get themselves into something just to be doing something," said the Augusta girl, who fills her days with activities at a monthlong camp run by the sheriff's department.

Juvenile crime statistics from some area departments show a marked increase during the summer. In Columbia County, 1996 figures show a steady rate of juvenile offenses during the first part of the year: 32 offenses in March, 30 in April, 33 in May. The number jumps to 55 offenses in June 1996.

Richmond County numbers don't follow a predictable pattern. Statistics from the Juvenile Court system waver from 392 offenses in April 1996 to 276 offenses in June to 326 in July, without showing much increase during the summer.

That doesn't mean police officers are wrong when they say they see more juvenile crime during the summer. Crime moves from school hallways into the streets - where the community is more likely to notice it and feel the effects, said Bill Dean, director of the Juvenile Court Probation Unit.

The Juvenile Court statistics reflect crimes inside school walls during the school year, as well as on the street during the summer, he said.

"It really is an interesting statistic," Mr. Dean said. "It's difficult to measure. What happens is that the type of incident changes. The school system has public safety officers, and we get reports from them. When school lets out, then you've got all the kids out on the street."

School public safety officers generally turn youngsters over to juvenile authorities for cases involving fights, drugs and thefts, Mr. Dean said. In the summer, juvenile workers see more charges of shoplifting or criminal trespass - the same crimes that sheriff's officers see increase.

Other summer crimes include thefts from yards or garages and car thefts - teens go on joy-rides, abandoning cars a few blocks later, Chief Deputy Strength said.

Most police departments try to curb summer criminal activity by increasing the visibility of officers, who may stop their cars on patrol or get out of the vehicles to talk to teens. Others redirect their patrols.

Officials said they also tried to encourage activities that kept juveniles busy - pushing programs by area recreation departments, sponsoring their own camps or cadet programs or urging officers to participate in youth activities such as coaching.

One area department does see a decrease in juvenile crime during the summer months, although Lolita Ashley, Aiken Public Safety juvenile officer, isn't sure why.

"It's been that way since I started working here," she said. "We have more activity during school. I don't know if it's the stress of school, or what."