Taking it to the streets: Probation officers addressing gun violence with community presence

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Evansville Courier & Press on 4/29/2016 by Mark Wilson

MIKE LAWRENCE / COURIER & PRESS Vanderburgh County Juvenile Court probation officers (L-R) Jennifer Hall, Allen Waller and field supervisor Trent Barnett talk to a student while visiting the Academy for Innovative Studies School, April 7, 2016.

Violent crime among juveniles, especially gun-related crime, is increasing dramatically in Vanderburgh County and it is causing court officials to rethink the way it is handled.

“It has kind of exploded in the last two or three years,” said Trent Barnett, a Juvenile Court probation officer.

Barnett supervises a new Juvenile Probation field officer unit designed to keep probation officers in the community on a daily basis and implementing a new “intensive probation” program.

The statistics are staggering. The number of juveniles arrested for firearms charges has gone up every year since 2012, according to Vanderburgh Juvenile Court statistics.

“It just became obvious that we were having more and more of these gun cases. It was clearly going through the roof,” said Juvenile Court Judge Brett Niemeier.

There were eight juvenile firearms arrests in 2013, of which only two were for actually using guns to commit crimes. There were 44 juveniles arrested for gun charges in 2015: Including 32 juveniles charged with possessing a firearm and another 12 charged with using a guns to commit crimes.

“Those were just the ones who were caught. You do the math and it is quite alarming,” Niemeier said.

At least five juveniles have been arrested for firearm-related charges so far this year, he said.

Violent crime by juveniles also has been rising. The number of juveniles arrested and held at the Vanderburgh County Jail jumped from three in 2013 to 21 in 2015 — a distinction reserved for juveniles charged as adults.

Niemeier said he found these numbers alarming, too.

Often, juveniles arrested on gun-related charges have had previous contact with the legal system.

“Probably 90 percent of the time we know them and it’s not just their first offense,” Niemeier said.