Updated: January 27, 2020 10:23 PM
Created: January 27, 2020 10:04 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Teen accused of violent crimes in Albuquerque is on the rise, and the president of the Albuquerque Police Officer's Association believes law enforcement is handcuffed when dealing with young offenders.
"We don't really have an avenue to hold kids accountable in the City of Albuquerque, in the state of New Mexico, which I think is a huge problem for the state," said Shaun WIlloughby.
Officers do not make the call about whether a child should be held in a detention center. That decision is made by a Juvenile Probation Officer, which are operated by CYFD.
The decision to lock up a teenager depends on how many points they've racked up in the CYFD system.
Officials within Probation and Parole fill out a detention screening based on a point system: Felony crimes and misdemeanors would give a teen 3 points, auto theft would be 5 points, more serious crimes involving a gun, or great bodily injury would be 12 points, according to the screening document obtained from CYFD.
There are plus or minus points depending on a variety of factors about the crime and previous criminal history and other factors considered.
That point system determines if a teen is held in the detention center or released to go home.
According to Deputy District Attorney for the Juvenile Justice Division of Bernalillo County, Diana Garcia, if someone gets 12 points or more that teen is able to be detained at the detention center. If a teen gets anywhere from 8 to 11 points, they are referred to a non-secure shelter like New Day. If a teen gets 7 points or less, they will likely be released to go home with their parents.
Willoughby believes the current system could put people at risk. He points to a case of a local high school student who was caught with enough drugs to sell. Police documents also claim the teenager punched his dad in the face. However, when an officer tried to have the teenager booked into a juvenile detention center, the officer was told "no."
Officials tell KOB 4 that most misdemeanors are handled within Juvenile Probation and Parole.
"They'll send them to counseling, maybe give them some community service," Garcia said. "Really, the goal for them is to meet the child's needs, see what they can do at that level to prevent them from coming into the system."
The system is built that way because it is nearly overwhelmed with more serious cases involving what's called "youthful offenders."
Garcia said her office has more cases of accused of rape, aggravated battery and second-degree murder.
From 2014 to 2016, those serious cases represented 2% of the case load. In 2019, that number rose to 7%.
In just the first month 2020, Garcia said they've already filed six "youthful offender" cases, or 26% of their overall workload.
Many of the teenagers who are accused of the most heinous crimes have never been on prosecutors' radar before, according to Garica.
"We're prosecuting or have prosecuted, within the last year, four 14 year olds charged with first-degree murder," Garcia said. "And there again, (they) had very limited history."
The Albuquerque Police Department is trying to find other ways to intervene with teens during the earliest signs of trouble.
"Often when youth get involved in the juvenile justice system for the minor crimes, the chance of them re-offending goes up dramatically, said Lieutenant Roger Legendre, who is part of APD's Youth Engagement and Education Division.
Legendre said the department is researching programs in other states.
Meanwhile, APD is offering junior police academies and started "Camp Fearless."
Starting in 202, officers will be going into local elementary schools to read to children in an effort to become a presence even earlier.
"When there's a respect for law, there's less chance on them committing a crime later on," Legendre said. "It's only going to promote citizenship."
Despite the program, there's still a question about what's behind the influx of teen violence in Albuquerque.
Is it gangs, a troubling life at home, trauma or a lack of behavioral health program?
"If we could answer that question, we would be a much safer community," Garcia said.
However, some believe the cause of the problem could actually be a perceived lenient justice system.
"We hear all the time, 'well you can't arrest your way out of the problem,' well you're definitely not, not going to arrest somebody and fix the problem either, there needs to be a good balance," Willoughby said.
Copyright 2020 - KOB-TV LLC, A Hubbard Broadcasting Company