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Back to Archives | Back to March 2005 Contents 

Honoring Excellence: 2004 IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award Winners Showcase Law Enforcement's Best

s the city of Port Saint Lucie, Florida, grew from a mere 14,000 citizens in 1980 to its present population of more than 100,000, so did its rate of juvenile crime. The one-time retirement community is now home to predominately young families. This shift in demographics posed a host of new challenges for the community's police department.

The influx of juveniles placed increasing demands on an already overburdened juvenile justice system. Although the number of cases increased dramatically, no corresponding increases in services were available for these children until the Juvenile Restorative Justice program launched in 2002. The department and its comprehensive program were honored with the IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award for Quality in Law Enforcement at the Annual IACP conference last November.

"We are exceedingly proud to be an IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award winner," said Port Saint Lucie Police Chief John M. Skinner. "To be recognized with the industry's highest honor and among such a distinguished group of law enforcement agencies is what every department strives for." The Port Saint Lucie Police Department's juvenile initiative is a diversion program for first-time juvenile offenders. It consists of a dedicated juvenile section in the department's detective division that monitors, evaluates, and facilitates all facets of the program. The initiative also incorporates extensive community outreach and education efforts, along with a youth court, short-term counseling, and peer review and impact panel.

Key goals of the initiative include the following:

    1. To improve the quality of life in the community by providing quality services to the community's youth and the victims of juvenile crime while emphasizing the need for the expeditious imposition of consequences for delinquent acts
      1. Coordinate with local juvenile justice service providers to identify existing resources in the community for juveniles
      2. Reduce complacency in the juvenile justice system to dispel belief that nothing happens to juvenile offenders
      3. Enhance citizen satisfaction with the police department's services through immediate intervention for juvenile defenders
    2. To increase citizen, police, and public and private agency involvement with strategies to improve the quality of life and enhance public safety
      1. Facilitate improved communications and coordination of services by social services, juvenile justice, and other providers to enhance diversion programming for delinquent youth
      2. Initiate and coordinate meetings between agencies that are responsible for juvenile services in the community
      3. Increase services to the victims of juvenile crime through direct communication and information on the progress of the juvenile
    3. To increase the department's effectiveness through efficient use of resources
      1. Decrease time spent by the responding officer in processing juvenile cases
      2. Expedite processing of the cases by a reduction in paperwork, no formal booking, and direct release to parent upon issuance of juvenile notice to appear at the scene
      3. Provide services to ensure that juvenile offenders are held accountable     

"Law enforcement agencies worldwide face compelling public safety challenges," said then-IACP President Joseph Polisar, chief of the Garden Grove, California, Police Department. "This year's IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award winners, finalists and semifinalists exemplify a dedication to making a difference in the communities they serve and IACP and Motorola are proud to recognize their outstanding accomplishments."

In the Beginning
When the initiative launched, the Port Saint Lucie Police Department established the Juvenile Services Section and assigned a full-time detective to manage the caseload. After a thorough evaluation of the community's juvenile offenses, it was determined that a large number were misdemeanors. Thus, the overriding goal of the program was to ensure juvenile offenders are held accountable for their actions in a timely manner.

Prior to changes dictated by the Juvenile Restorative Justice program, the average time between the date of formal processing of a juvenile offense and the imposition of consequences was 45 to 90 days. The new process allows a police officer to exercise discretion in determining whether formal processing is required. The officer may issue a juvenile notice to appear to both the juvenile and responding parent or guardian in lieu of taking the child into custody if the case meets one of following criteria:

  • A first-time juvenile offender has committed a violation of law that would be a misdemeanor if committed by an adult

  • A juvenile offender has committed an offense on school grounds and school officials request nonjudicial handling of the case

  • A juvenile offender and the victim agree to the nonjudicial
    handling of the case

The juvenile notice to appear directs the juvenile offender and his or her parent or guardian to appear at the Port Saint Lucie Police Department at a specific date and time within two weeks of the offense. At that time, they will meet with a juvenile services specialist, a juvenile detective, or a trained volunteer who will evaluate the offender's suitability for diversion.

Recognizing that every case needs to be evaluated on its own merits and circumstances, the program offers three options to meet the needs of juveniles and their families. The evaluator ultimately selects the most appropriate option.

Youth Court: Youth court consists of juvenile volunteers from the community, primarily high school students enrolled in law studies programs. These students serve as courtroom personnel: bailiff, court clerk, prosecutors, defenders, and jurors. Local judges volunteer to serve as the youth court judge. This process fosters a deeper respect for the individual participants, their school, law enforcement, the community, and legal system.

Short-Term Counseling: This component consists of an initial conference with the juvenile and family. The victim is invited to participate. Juveniles involved in this program are counseled by law enforcement regarding the legal consequences of their actions. If professional counseling is determined to be necessary, a referral to a community-based program is provided.

Peer Review/Victim Impact Panel: The purpose of the peer review/victim impact panel is to give the juvenile offender an opportunity to discuss the nature of the offense and its consequences with the victim and a panel of peers. The victims are permitted to confront the offender in a constructive manner, and the offender is held directly accountable for the harm that resulted to both the victim and community. The offender's peers impose appropriate sanctions.

"The power of peer-to-peer evaluation and accountability is truly significant and a key component of our program's success," said Chief Skinner. "Many times the sanctions imposed by our peer volunteers are tougher than those that would have been recommended by an adult."

In the program's first year of operation, 51 juvenile cases were referred to youth court, 82 cases were resolved in short-term counseling, and the peer review panel sanctioned 89 cases. All of the offenders successfully completed their imposed sanctions well before the 90-day average that it would have taken for resolution in the previous juvenile justice system. Only 2 percent of juveniles who participated in this program have been charged with repeat offenses.

Since its inception, the program has restored the community's faith in the police department's ability to manage juvenile crime more effectively, and local justice officials have recognized the program as a best demonstrated practice in the state of Florida.

"This program is a shining example of the value of early intervention on crime reduction, as well as the significant accomplishments that can be achieved through building strong alliances with schools and the community at large," stressed Chief Skinner. "The Juvenile Restorative Justice program has made our entire juvenile justice system faster and more efficient for officers, offenders and victims. We share our success with the community and the more than 300 volunteers that continue make it possible -- and effective."

The Webber Seavey Distinction
The IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award is presented annually to agencies and departments worldwide for promoting a standard of excellence that epitomizes law enforcement's contribution and dedication to the quality of life in local communities. In 2004, from among a field of more than 179 nominees-almost 20 percent coming from countries other than the United States, such as India, Brazil, and Ireland-three departments were selected to receive law enforcement's most distinguished honor, and 22 other departments were recognized as finalists and semifinalists.

"For the last 12 years, the IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award has honored the critical role first responders play in each of our lives," said Jim Sarallo, Motorola vice president and general manager, North America. "On behalf of Motorola, I'd like to thank all this year's winners for the commitment, creativity, courage, and leadership they bring to their jobs every day."

All nominated Webber Seavey law enforcement programs were evaluated by a distinguished panel of judges against five criteria:

  • Their impact on improving services available in the community

  • How they strengthened police relations with the communities they served and whether the programs promoted greater community participation in local law enforcement activities

  • How effectively available resources were used

  • Whether the programs enhanced communications within, and cooperation among, local law enforcement agencies

  • The creativity of the approaches developed and whether they raised the quality and effectiveness of law enforcement services provided.



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 3, March 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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