Threats behind spike in violent crime involving youth
The main cause of an almost 18 per cent jump in youth violent crime last year in Hamilton was a spike in uttered threats, police say.
The number of youth aged 12 to 17 reportedly involved, but not necessarily charged, in violent crimes reached 510 in 2016, up from 432 the year before.
Those crimes include offences such as assault, uttering threats, sexual assault and sexual interference, notes a year-end report presented to the police services board Thursday.
Uttering threats was the biggest contributor to the spike, Sgt. Jon Alsbergas said.
“In the vast majority of those cases, charges were never laid.”
Police Chief Eric Girt said threats are becoming more common because of emails or texts in the “cyber world.”
In the 510 cases last year, 179 people were charged. In 2015, charges were laid against 180 youths, the report says.
A “slight increase” in youth-involved cases of sexual assault and interference also contributed to the jump in violent crimes, Alsbergas said. Overall, youth firearm offences decreased in 2016 compared to the year before.
“That number (18 per cent) on its face value … when you actually look at it at a deeper level, it isn’t actually as significant as it first appears.”
Alsbergas noted the most frequent offences include shoplifting, minor assault and possession of cannabis.
In general, the number of youths involved in all types of crime in Hamilton in 2016 was up slightly for the first time in eight years. The city saw a 1.5 per cent increase, whereas nationally there was a decrease of 2 per cent. But comparing Hamilton’s youth crime so far in 2017 to the same period last year shows a 13 per cent decrease, Alsbergas added.
The police services board presentation comes at a time when Hamilton has experienced 13 targeted shootings since January — 10 of which were in the past month. At least one involved a youth.
A 15-year-old and 18-year-old were charged with a litany of assault, weapon and break-in counts after a home invasion on Holly Avenue Tuesday left a man with lifethreatening gunshot wounds.
Earlier this month, three 17year-old girls were charged with second-degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of a man found blood-soaked at a Stoney Creek gas station.
In April, a 16-year-old Hamilton boy was charged with robbery, kidnapping, pointing a firearm, threatening death and using stolen credit card offences in a string of carjackings and robberies.
Last year’s increase in violent crime involving youths isn’t enough to signal if it’s on the rise, says Jane Sprott, a criminology professor at Ryerson University.
“You can have a really odd, tragic year, but it might not be evidence of a trend.”
A fluctuation in crime rates is natural, she said, adding it’s important to look at the type of offences. For example, are they threats or aggravated assaults?
“If it’s concentrated in the highend stuff, that’s where you’d want to look at what might be going on.”
If a particular type of violent crime is on the rise, it’s important to ask the right questions for police and community intervention, says Anthony Doob, professor emeritus with the University of Toronto’s Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies.
“Where in the city? What kind of circumstances?” he said. “If it’s something that’s new, let’s try to figure out what we can do.”