published Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Hamilton County juvenile offense numbers drop but some areas remain troubled

Boys & Girls Club of Chattanooga councilor LaToesha Green, center, leads 6- 9-year-old girls in "octopus tag"y during an outdoor only period. Recent data shows high juvenile crime rates in the Ridgedale neighborhood according to a recent courts report. Boys & Girls Club of Chattanooga provides teenage and pre-teen kids educational and recreational opportunities to keep them out of trouble.
Boys & Girls Club of Chattanooga councilor LaToesha Green, center, leads 6- 9-year-old girls in "octopus tag"y during an outdoor only period. Recent data shows high juvenile crime rates in the Ridgedale neighborhood according to a recent courts report. Boys & Girls Club of Chattanooga provides teenage and pre-teen kids educational and recreational opportunities to keep them out of trouble.
Photo by Dan Henry.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

Here are other key findings from a Times Free Press analysis of Juvenile Court and U.S. Census data:

• Number of juvenile crimes: 990 in 2012; 1,465 in 2003

• Annual average of juvenile crimes: 1,268 from 1995-20102

• In 2012, aggravated assault and aggravated burglary offenses committed by juveniles were down by one-quarter when compared to the overall median.

• Aggravated robbery and theft under $500 committed by juveniles were up 50 percent and 260 percent, respectively.

• The 37404 area holds 4 percent of Hamilton County's juvenile population, but is the location of 23 percent of the juvenile crime incidents according to the 2012 data.

• Even though the 37404 ZIP code area has some of the worst numbers based on its population, the number of offenses last year were not the worst the area has seen. Crimes in the 37404 area in 2012 were 21 percent lower than highs in 2006 and 2008.

Half of all juvenile crimes in Hamilton County can be found in just five areas of Chattanooga.

The 2012 Hamilton County Juvenile Court report shows that while overall juvenile crime is down 21 percent since the court has kept records, a core of Chattanooga's inner city that has one-third of its youth population is responsible for 51 percent of juvenile crimes.

A Times Free Press analysis of court data since 1995 and companion U.S. Census figures revealed trends and patterns among ZIP codes where the court has collected information.

Highlights of the analysis showed that juvenile crime is down by 47 percent from its peak in 2003.

Five areas of town, by ZIP code, constitute half of the reported juvenile crime -- Brainerd, East Brainerd, East Chattanooga, downtown. The fifth area is ZIP code 37404, labeled Highland Park, but consisting of the following major neighborhoods -- East Lake, Highland Park, Oak Grove, Orchard Knob and Ridgedale.

The five-neighborhood area of ZIP code 37404 is also the only major area that recorded an increase in crime over the 17-year period. Reported juvenile crime for that area is up 49 percent.

"Crime reports and numbers are up," said Chattanooga police Lt. Glenn Scruggs. "But it's an illusion. It's not growing. It's just the same kids.

"If you dig deeper you find crime in an area and we're pretty much seeing the exact same kids over and over again starting at 11, 12 until they age out at 17."

Michael Cranford takes a long view on the problems that plague inner-city neighborhoods. He has to.

When Cranford, now 62, was a boy visiting relatives in the summertime here he wasn't allowed into the Boys & Girls Club in Ridgedale. It was segregated and Cranford is black.

He watched through the fence as others played.

  • photo
    2012 Hamilton County juvenile crime map
    Staff Graphic

But he's spent the past 45 years working for the club and is president of the Boys & Girls Club of Chattanooga.

Cranford says there have been a lot of demographic shifts in the 37404 area. More of the properties are rentals. In the past there were more property owners, he said. Nearly 150 kids come to the Duncan Avenue club for summer lunches and programs are open all day while youth are out of school.

But recreation is only a part of the mission. Much of what will likely help reduce crime is being done through education offered at the club and through city programs.

Paul Smith recently took over as Chattanooga's public safety coordinator. He formerly served as principal for the Howard School.

Smith reviewed the 17-year numbers and recent annual report and also noted the spike of crimes in the 37404 area.

Though he would like more information on population shifts and other data, Smith said initiatives must focus on the very young, who are often left out of talk about solutions.

From his time at Howard he said he saw children as young as 7 or 8 years old emulating the older boys and girls in street gangs.

"We need to find ways to engage even those age kids," Smith said. Shaping what the youngest in the group value can help change where they're headed.

"There's no quick fixes," Smith said. "These things take place over time, not overnight."

•••

Scruggs, the police lieutenant, grew up in East Chattanooga and has served most of his 20-year career in zones that cover 37404. Before being promoted to command, he worked in juvenile crime.

He said some of the report's numbers can be deceiving. What's not tracked is the number of crimes per individual. Many times, he said, a handful of bad actors causes spikes in crime numbers for neighborhoods or areas.

In a given year there may be 300 reports of youth runaways but actual numbers show the same 70 to 100 kids being reported multiple times.

"The juvenile court puts in a ton of effort to give these kids a fair shake," he said. "But when it's not supported by parents, it just falls flat."

Within 37404, Scruggs said residents of Highland Park have invested a lot of effort into restoring properties and improving the area.

Highland Park Neighborhood Association members Dana Bailey, Mike Wilson, Olga de Klein and David Brock met with the Times Free Press to talk about the crime numbers listed in the report.

Bailey said since she moved to the neighborhood in 2004 and likely before that, residents have always been vigilant about reporting problems to police.

But at the same time there are lots of people using their front porches, walking the sidewalks to socialize. That face-to-face can go a long way toward helping discourage crime, she said.

Highland Park is surrounded by the Oak Grove, Orchard Knob and Ridgedale neighborhoods. Improvements in any area, unlocked cars or bicycles left unattended make for crimes of opportunity.

Wilson, who serves as the association president this year, cited absentee landlords as the major concern.

Property owners who have either neglected the homes or who rent to irresponsible tenants can cause problems for those who live in their own homes, he said.

But, Bailey said, if she sees a person she doesn't know personally in the neighborhood, she says hello and introduces herself.

"I also think you're less likely to steal something from someone you know," Bailey said.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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