Proposal could bolster juvenile diversion efforts

Bill would require civil citations issued to kids who commit misdemeanor crimes

A top Senate Republican on Tuesday filed a proposal that could lead to expanded use of diversion programs for juveniles who commit misdemeanor crimes.

Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who is the Senate president pro tempore, filed the measure (SB 196) for consideration during the 2017 legislative session, which starts in March.

It comes amid a move to increase the use of civil citations and similar diversion programs to keep juvenile offenders out of detention facilities.

In part, the bill calls for the establishment of civil citation or similar diversion programs in each county.

It also would require law enforcement officers to issue citations or require participation in diversion programs if juveniles admit committing first-time misdemeanor offenses, such as possessing alcohol under age 21, battery, criminal mischief, trespassing or theft.

Northeast Florida law enforcement agencies said there are positives and negatives of the proposal to consider.

Clay County Sheriff-elect Darryl Daniels said he wants to unclog the system that can hinder juveniles. But he does not agree with a rule that takes away a judgment call by law enforcement officers.

"I don't want tot see officers hamstrung by a law that's going to remove their ability to act in the best interest of the public when needed," Daniels said.

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith had a different take on the mandate suggested in the bill.

"I'm all in favor of using the civil citations. I think Duval County is ahead of the curve," Smith said. 

While the bill introduced in the Florida Senate would take the idea across the state, Smith said he believes Duval County schools and Jacksonville police have utilized civil citations effectively. 

"This is something the kids just don't think about that graduate high school and want to go on to college or the military. This could show up on their criminal record. Now, by having a civil citation and dealing with it in a different way, it keeps that from happening," Smith said. 

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office issued the following statement to News4Jax Wednesday, saying in part:

"We would hope that agencies would do as JSO has, and voluntarily commit to utilizing the civil citation when all the criteria are met and it is in the best interest of all parties involved. Every community is dealing with youth crime issues, some which may be unique to them. Officer discretion is critically important in dealing with young people who may or may not be eligible for a civil citation, also. Likewise, community stakeholders and their engagement with the police on the issue of how to deal with youth crime is necessary."

Current law gives officers discretion over whether to arrest juveniles or issue citations. But critics believe that means teenage offenders face inconsistent punishments across the state.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.