Editor's note: This article is the first in a two-part series focusing on juvenile crime in Harvey County.

 

According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, 28 juveniles were arrested in McPherson County in 2017. During that same year, 211 juveniles were arrested in Harvey County.

Of those 211 arrests, the KBI reports 182 were made by the Newton Police Department.

The Newton Police Department's annual report for 2017 states 341 juveniles were arrested during that year.

The discrepancy in numbers stems from what is classified as an arrest by each agency. The KBI counts only the "more heinous offense" in the case of an individual being arrested on multiple charges, and runaways are not included in the total.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Harvey County had an estimated population of 34,500 in 2017 (24.5 percent under 18), while McPherson County had around 28,700 people (23.3 percent under 18). So, while there were more youth living in Harvey County, there does not seem to be enough of them to warrant the huge gap in juvenile arrest totals.

The number of juvenile arrests has fluctuated over the past decade — the Newton Police Department recorded 363 arrests in 2009, a number that steadily dropped until hitting a low of 169 in 2013, when the number started trending upward again. In 2017, 15 percent of arrests were juveniles.

"We do have a lot of cases that involve juveniles," said Newton Police Chief Eric Murphy.

The 341 juvenile arrests in 2017 jumped from 2016's total of 249, a spike that Murphy said stemmed from the reopening of EmberHope's shelter for youth, some of whom run away from the facility.

Throughout the past decade, Newton's police officers have made the majority of juvenile arrests — not surprising, perhaps, given that the majority of the county's population lives inside city limits. What may be surprising is how many more juveniles are arrested — 12 times more than in neighboring McPherson County, according to the KBI statistics.

McPherson Police Chief Robert McClarty said the department recorded 26 youth being detained and transported for 2017 — a number that does not include officers issuing citations or a notice to appear to juveniles for misdemeanors or status offenses. Adding in those incidents, the number of juveniles having contact with police officers would reach several hundred, according to McClarty.

The McPherson PD did not have a total number to compare with Newton, and requests for information from the McPherson County Attorney's Office went unanswered.

McClarty pointed out while Newton and McPherson are in the same judicial district, there are differences between the cities.

"Newton is a totally different animal than McPherson," McClarty said. "There's no comparison. They are totally different cultures."

The number of juvenile arrests in Newton take up a significant portion of the police department's resources, as well as costing taxpayers money. Harvey County spent $72,900 on juvenile detention in 2017.

Most juveniles are transported to the Reno County Juvenile Detention Center.

"They charge a daily rate that's not cheap," said Harvey County Attorney David Yoder. "...The county has to pay that price."

The charge for each juvenile is $150 per day.

The Harvey County Attorney's Office can go after the parents for remuneration of those costs, according to Yoder.

"If the kid's been running around every night of the week and the parents don't know where they are and don't care, we have no problem going after the billing costs because the parents aren't taking responsibility," Yoder said.

Getting repaid for juvenile detention costs is a process that is often unsuccessful, though — and one that is inappropriate when the parents are the victims in a criminal case.

The crimes for which those between the ages of 10 — when they can first be legally charged — and 17 are most often arrested include theft, battery, drug offenses and liquor violations, according to the KBI's statistics for 2017.

"The vast majority of cases we have are drugs or property crimes — vandalism, shoplifting, thefts, that kind of thing — and then threats," Yoder said.

There has also been a rise in felony crimes, such as threatening group violence.

"People sometimes complain that we overreact, but if anyone threatens group violence against anybody — a school, church, group of people, whatever — we're going to charge it as a criminal felony threat and we're going to prosecute it," Yoder said.

Both high school and middle school students have been arrested for selling drugs.

"They're committing more and more serious, adult crimes at younger and younger ages," Yoder said. "...We take it seriously, and we prosecute them for distribution."

Sex crimes such as rape, aggravated sodomy and child molestations have also been on the rise.

"I've got far more sex crimes involving juveniles than I had when I started here 18 years ago," Yoder said. "...We've got an alarming number of cases dealing with teenagers having sex with 9- and 10-year-old girls."

Murphy had a word of caution for concerned parents.

"Be aware of what your children are doing; be involved with them, in their activities and be aware of who their friends are," Murphy advised.