Teen illustrates problems with repeat offenders

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Ted Sullivan
Saturday, December 26, 2009
— The Janesville boy’s troubles began with family problems when he was 13.

He was a Franklin Middle School student when he was suspected of punching his mother and a cabinet in October 2005.

He told police his parents had been in an argument, and he got mad at his mom. He left home after his mom called police.

He was later arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct.

It was the teen’s first of 20 arrests in the last five years, more than anyone else in the city, according to a Gazette analysis of Janesville Police Department data.

He is one of several repeat offenders who are common in the criminal justice system, driving caseloads, clogging courts and draining resources, officials said.

The boy, now 17, has a reputation.

“We call them frequent flyers or repeat customers,” Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary said. “A large portion of our volume is for individuals who have been in the system repeatedly.”

Many repeat offenders are addicted to drugs or alcohol, O’Leary said.

People commit crimes such as theft or burglary to support their addictions, he said. Others get drunk or high and commit crimes.

“You’ll see a lot of our time spent on the same individuals with the same issues,” O’Leary said.

Misdemeanor offenders often aren’t forced to get treatment because their crimes aren’t serious enough, he said. The maximum they can serve on probation is one year.

Felony offenders can get treatment through Rock County Drug Court or other diversion programs, but they might have to wait for openings, O’Leary said.

Treatment is the best option for repeat offenders willing to get help, he said. If not, the only option is to lock them up for public safety.

The problem, however, is that they re-offend when they are released from jail or prison, O’Leary said.

More treatment programs are needed, but the state hasn’t paid for them, he said.

Family issues

Steve Kopp, Janesville deputy police chief, said patrol officers also have regulars.

“There are certain names that come up over and over again,” he said. “All of the officers know these people from repeated contacts.”

Repeat offenders are frustrating, Kopp said.

Although substance abuse is often a factor, habitual criminals also come from bad homes or difficult backgrounds, he said.

Police have dealt with repeat offenders from one family, such as a man, his children and grandchildren, Kopp said.

“It seems to, in some cases, stay in the family and pass from generation to generation,” he said.

Police try to be proactive to curb repeat offenders, Kopp said. For example, officers in the gang intelligence unit often reach out to parents and offer support or guidance.

String of arrests

In the case of the 17-year-old boy, his October 2005 arrest was the beginning in a long line of run-ins with the law.

Within six months, he ran away from home three times. He soon was arrested on disorderly conduct charges after another dispute with his mom.

By the time he was at Parker High School, his crimes had escalated.

He was arrested on a charge of substantial battery after a fight with another teen. One of the boys suffered a broken nose.

More disorderly conduct and probation violation arrests followed. His mother reported him for skipping school. He again ran away.

More domestic disturbances with his mother were later reported.

At 16, he was involved in a burglary. A rifle, shotgun and cigarettes were stolen.

This year, at age 17, he has been charged with battery, disorderly conduct, resisting an officer and underage drinking.

He has been in and out of the juvenile detention center, but now he can be charged as an adult.

The teen is familiar to police, Kopp said, and he has gang affiliations.

He has one criminal case pending in Rock County.

The Gazette could not reach the teen or his family for comment.

Disorderly conduct is reason for most arrests

Disorderly conduct was the No. 1 reason people were arrested in Janesville in the last five years, according to a Gazette analysis of Janesville Police Department data.

Officers arrested people on charges of disorderly conduct 1,764 times, more than doubling the No. 2 offense, retail theft.

Other leading reasons for arrests included misdemeanor battery, juvenile runaway and damage to property, respectively.

Disorderly conduct is when a person in a public or private place engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct that causes or provokes a disturbance, according to city ordinance.

The fine for disorderly conduct is $375 for adults and $200 for juveniles.

Steve Kopp, deputy police chief, said he wasn’t surprised that disorderly conduct topped other violations. He said the ordinance covers a broad range of behaviors.

Disorderly conduct arrests usually occur when someone misbehaves in a public place and no one is injured, Kopp said.

Disorderly conduct can be used in many ways.

According to Janesville police reports:

n Disorderly conduct was recently reported at Franklin Middle School after an eighth-grade student created a disturbance in the office. The student was taken home and turned over to her mother.

n A 34-year-old man was recently arrested on two charges of disorderly conduct after a disturbance in the 1900 block of Center Avenue. He followed a 22-year-old woman through the parking lot from a bar.

The man pushed the woman to the ground after making sexual advances. He also threw her cell phone and got in a fight with another man.

n Other recent disorderly conduct arrests stemmed from bar fights, domestic disputes and armed subject complaints.

Last updated: 12:05 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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