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Cape Police initiative helps keep teens from becoming repeat offenders

By Staff | Jul 26, 2010

An initiative by Cape Coral Police Department appears to be curbing some crimes caused by juveniles.
And it could lead to a life-changing experience for teens who have been in trouble with the law.
Toward the end of last year, Sgts. Joseph Zalenski and Dana Coston began noticing a rash of vehicle burglaries and other low-grade narcotic crimes occurring in their districts.
Patrol Officer Ryan Tronchet came from Milwaukee, Wis., where specialized teams tracked juveniles who were known to law enforcement.
But economic woes facing the agency would not allow Cape Coral police to have a specialized unit to target the juveniles that Zalenski and Coston believed were the culprits to many of the crimes. The teenage recidivism rate was extremely high.
A group of officers recognized a need and decided to something about it.
Soon “JCRIME” — short for Juvenile Crime Reduction Initiative Through Mentoring, Monitoring and Enforcement — was born.
“We don’t have a specialized unit,” said Capt. Mike Torregrossa, calling JCRIME an initiative. “We identified some officers with … strong backgrounds and a penchant for juvenile offenders.”
Those officers are now part of the JCRIME initiative. They get no extra pay to go the extra mile to help keep an eye on the teens. They check on them on a regular basis.
The JCRIME team is comprised of officers from all districts in the Cape. They were chosen because of their attitudes and experience dealing with juveniles. They share information across from district lines.
In the past, said Lt. Darren McKenna, there was a unit of six officers assigned to a special unit, but budget cuts hit, and, McKenna said, looking at statistics about 80 to 85 percent of vehicle burglaries were being done by juveniles.
Those officers help keep an eye on juvenile offenders who are on probation. They talk to the teens; they talk to the parents. They build a rapport with the teens, many of whom have the officers’ cell phone numbers.
They offer assistance if there are other needs in the house, such as food or counseling. They help direct them to resources needed to keep the teens from going back to jail on a probation violation or even worse, enter into the world of bigger crimes.
And for the juvenile offenders who are assigned community service, the officers get in their T-shirts and work alongside them by cleaning patrol cars, vacant properties.
“It shows officers in a different light,” said Zalenski.
Basically what the JCRIME officers do is let the teens know they not only have a law enforcement “eye” on them, and at the same time provide someone they can go to instead of going out and committing crimes. Each officer has on average about 30 juvenile offenders they check on.
“We get to know every single kid,” said Tronchet. “Some of these parents are not very good parents, but there are a lot of resources available.”
Sometimes the parents are good parents, but their teen has gotten caught up in the wrong crowd. The parents, the officers said, are at their wit’s end.
No matter which parent the officers deal with, they try to direct them to the resources available to help them deal with their troubled youngster.
Torregrossa said one of the primary examples of how good the officers — men and women — are at their jobs is: “because they relate to them. They break down the barriers and try to be a support system.”
The pay-off is a lower juvenile crime rate, lower recidivism rate and how it makes the officers feel.
“I really enjoy doing this,” Tronchet said. “I sit down and talk to them as a person. They tend to open up to you.”