Middletown Police Lt. Jimmy Cunningham called juvenile crime “a big problem” and said too often children don’t understand the consequences of their illegal actions. The mistakes they make as juveniles follow them through adulthood and can limit their college and career choices, he said.
Anthony Dwyer, Butler County Sheriff’s Office deputy chief, said while children haven’t changed, the Internet and social media have put criminal options at their fingertips.
“I do think you have seen some of the attitude that ‘boys will be boys’ has faded, resulting in more legal involvement,” Dwyer said. But he said when officers interview children today as compared to years ago, they hear the same things.
Dwyer said some Internet information is criminal based and that’s dangerous to impressionable juveniles. He said some children will use that information to “become the next great scientist and some will use it to become the next great villain.”
Regardless of the crimes, the offenders are overwhelmingly boys, officials said. From 2012 to 2016, 1,468 felony juvenile cases were filed in Butler County, and 1,242, or 85 percent, were males.
Those numbers don’t surprise Alana Van Gundy, associate professor of justice and community studies at Miami University. Typically, she said, boys are more aggressive than girls, more likely for violence and arguments, while girls are more likely to follow rules.
Of the four major recent cases in the county, three are boys:
- A 16-year-old Middletown boy was charged for allegedly starting a church fire
- A 10-year-old was charged with aggravated arson after he allegedly started a fire that caused $200,000 in damages to Family Dollar
- A Hamilton teen girl was charged with murder for allegedly shooting and killing her sleeping father.
- A Madison Twp. teen opened fire on his classmates in the cafeteria of the Madison Jr./Sr. High School on Feb. 29, 2016
Middletown police are also currently looking for 17- and 15-year-old brothers who allegedly stabbed a man during a robbery.
After reviewing the case of the alleged 10-year-old arsonist, Van Gundy said she was “concerned” by how he calmly started the fire and walked out the business, even though there were 10 people, including his 8-year-old sister, inside.
She said the boy needs counseling because she has “a tremendous concern for his potential risk.” Without professional assistance, she believes the boy may strike again. The courts must address the “root causes” to prevent future fires, she said.
The boy was charged with aggravated arson and placed with his mother, Cunningham said. He will appear in Butler County Juvenile Court on May 16.
Cunningham said that when he found the boy near his grandmother’s house, he started crying and hugged Cunningham.
“He’s a little boy and I feel sorry for him,” Cunningham said. “But what he did was potentially deadly. Not only for himself, but for the other 10 people inside (the store).”
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office Safe Neighborhoods Initiative that addresses breaking the cycle of repeat violent offenders has been active for young offenders, especially those who commit gun-related crimes.
“They are identified as those at risk by arrest history or just being known in the community,” said Bob Fital, assistant attorney general.
During a “group intervention” set for next month in Butler County Common Pleas Court, the young men will be told “the people of Butler County are begging you to help us stop the gun violence,” Fital said.
Speakers from law enforcement, social services and medical providers, will offer help to those who want to change their ways.
The Safe Neighborhoods Imitative is an ongoing program implemented in numerous counties where gun violence is a problem.