Law Enforcement and the Youthful Offender

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The primary responsibility of law enforcement is the control and prevention of crime and delinquency through the enforcement of laws that are necessary for the good order of society. Since many criminal are committed by minors under the age of eighteen years, a large proportion of police works involves the detection, investigation, apprehension, and referral of these juveniles. In addition, law enforcement agencies are concerned with minors who come to their attention for noncriminal reasons. The initial handing of neglected children, for example, is often a police matter; and police officers also have the responsibility of dealing with runaway, incorrigible, and wayward youngsters.

In almost every aspect of their work with juveniles, the police must have contact with at least one other agency in the community. It must be recognized that the police services are only a part of the total community effort to promote the welfare of children and young people. For police services to be made more effective, then, they must be planned in relationship to the overall community program as well as to the services offered by individual agencies. Although police officers, and particularly special juvenile officers, should be familiar with the contribution and operation of all agencies in the community (an up-to-date directory of agencies can be of great value), it is clear that the major part of their work with children will involve contact with only a limited number of agencies. This contact should normally be close and continuous and, therefore, the relationship should be based on a clear understanding and amicable acceptance of the role of each of the participants. But in conclusion I want to say that there is often a lack of communication between the police and other young serving agencies in the community resulting in mutual criticism and feelings of hostility. Police sometimes say such agencies fail to advise them of action taken concerning juveniles brought to their attention. Agency personnel, on the other hand, often attribute the hostility and bad behavior of the juveniles turned over to them by the police to the unsympathetic “treatment” given them by the police. Social agencies personnel, including probation officers and even some judges, see only effective treatment. On the other side, some police see such agency personnel as unrealistically soft and permissive even to the extent of being “played for suckers” by cunning, worldly wise “young punks.” Feelings such as these on both sides are certainly not conducive to effective communication to say nothing of real cooperation.

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