Dakota County prosecuted fewer juvenile offenders in 2014 than in past years, but the number of youths facing felony charges rose for the first time in a decade.
The Dakota County attorney’s office said it charged 1,076 juvenile offenders in 2014, down 4 percent from 1,119 the year before. It set a new decade low for such cases, but the number of juveniles charged with felonies climbed 37 percent to 152, up from 111 in 2013.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom noted that although the increase is a concern, last year’s number of juveniles charged with felonies was still about half that of the 362 youths charged with such offenses in 2005. The overall number of juveniles charged with both misdemeanors and felonies last year was down 48 percent from a 2002 peak of 2,070.
“We’ve had significant drops in the number of juvenile offenders,” Backstrom said. “This is a safe county in which to live and work.”
Misdemeanor assault was still the most common violent crime committed by juveniles: 155 were charged last year, down from 198 in 2013. Crimes involving dangerous weapons were up from 18 in 2013 to 38 last year and sex-related offenses rose from 14 in 2013 to 31 last year. Cases involving terroristic threats also rose from nine in 2013 to 21 last year and robberies increased from just two in 2013 to 19 last year.
The Dakota County attorney’s office prosecutes all juvenile cases in the county — felonies and misdemeanors. Because of this, it can better initiate prevention or early intervention efforts, Backstrom said. He started an antibullying program in 2002 and his office also coordinates programs for first-time offenders that aim to resolve cases outside the court system.
“It’s important to let kids know we care about them and make sure that we understand there’s a way to address those issues proactively,” he said. “Unfortunately, if bullying isn’t stopped, a large percentage of bullies end up with a criminal record.”
More than 700 juvenile offenders were referred to such programs as an alternative to court both last year and in 2013. Also last year, 29 juveniles were referred to the Peer Court program, a joint project of the attorney’s office, community corrections and district court which operates in seven area high schools. High school students serve as jurors and agree on sanctions for offenders referred to the program.
The county attorney’s office releases statistics for adult and juvenile prosecutions around this time each year. It said adult felony prosecutions ticked upward for the first time in two years — climbing from 1,545 in 2013 to 1,565 last year — with drug crimes still the most commonly prosecuted offenses.