Threats be­hind spike in vi­o­lent crime in­volv­ing youth

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - NATALIE PAD­DON npad­don@thes­ 905-526-2420 | @NatatTheSpec

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.”

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