Review: Robert Surgenor's
"No Fear: A Police Officer's
Perspective" Providence House Pub., Franklin, TN, 1999
In the previous pages of this review we learned that the national juvenile crime wave, which Surgenor invokes in his book as an alleged result of lack of spanking, does not exist and that U.S. juvenile crime has been in decline for years. Could Surgenor have mistakenly interpreted a local increase in juvenile crime in his home State of Ohio, or in Cuyahoga County, where Surgenor works as a detective, as representative of a national trend?
No such juvenile crime wave has occurred at the State level. The following graph shows a clear downward trend in juvenile incarcerations for felonies in the state of Ohio:
If the State of Ohio as a whole has not experienced a rising wave of juvenile crime, perhaps Surgenor's local area, Cuyahoga County, has? Cuyahoga County juvenile crime data is available from the Cleveland Area Network for Data and Organizing of the Center on Urban Policy and Social Change at Case Western Reserve University.
This data shows that Cuyahoga County, like the rest of Ohio, is not an exception to the national trend. Total juvenile delinquency arrests per 100,000 teenagers decreased 22% between 1995, when Surgenor became a detective with the Juvenile Division, and 1999, when Surgenor published his book. Given the nature of his job, Surgenor must have been aware that arrest rates for teenagers in his district were on the decline, since juvenile crime in Cuyahoga County is the focus of Surgenor's entire career. In addition:
"Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Judge Peter Sikora disagrees with Mr. Surgenor's juvenile crime statistics. He said the number of crimes committed by children is dropping nationally and locally — evidenced by a 20 percent drop in suburban juvenile crime and a 17 percent drop in Cleveland from 1998 to 1999. (Source: Associated Press article "Police Detective's Book Says Spank Kids")As mentioned in Page Two of this review, the UCR rates of juvenile arrests for "offenses against family and children" are the only category of violent juvenile crime which was not in decline at the time Surgenor compiled the data for his book. In striking contrast to the declines in all other subtypes of juvenile arrest rates for violent offenses, this category shows considerable upward movement both nationally (at least until it peaked in 1998 and began falling) as well as in Cuyahoga County. Why should a generation of youngsters, who in 1998 committed fewer violent crimes than juveniles of any other year since the NCVS studies began back in 1973, physically attack their family members at unprecedented rates? The answer is that they almost certainly have not done so. The 1999 Report National Report of the NCVS sheds some light on this apparent anomaly:
"Juvenile violent crime arrest rates were higher in 1997 than in 1980 even though victims' reports of juvenile violent crime did not increase during this period."In other words, the NCVS data does not reveal a comparable rise in victim reports of juvenile violence to equal the rise in juvenile arrests recorded by the UCR from the mid 80's through the mid 90's and upon which Surgenor focuses his juvenile arrest rate graphs. The authors of the Bureau of Justice Statistics 1999 NCVS Report believe that steep rise in juvenile arrests, but not in reports of actual juvenile crimes during this period, is the result of changing public policies and a "get tough" attitude towards juvenile offenses, many of which had been treated less seriously in earlier years. The authors suggest that the rise in juvenile domestic violence arrests is a particularly good example of this:
"Juvenile drug abuse arrest rates nearly doubled between 1992 and 1996. Self report studies do not indicate a large change in drug use among youth during this period. Since most of the increase in drug abuse arrests was attributable to arrests for marijuana possession it seems clear that communities became more concerned about marijuana use among youth and that law enforcement, responding to this concern, arrested more juveniles for this offense. During [1980-1996], legislative and policy changes required a formal law enforcement response to domestic violence incidents. This change would have resulted in more aggravated and simple assault arrests, but no additional robbery arrests. It would have had its greatest impact on the arrests for middle-age persons. It also would have caused arrests to increase without a change in victim-reported crime levels. [Which is exactly what was observed. -C.D.]Surgenor is well aware that communities throughout the U.S.A., including his own, have adopted mandatory arrest policies for those charged with domestic violence, and mentions this fact in his book (p. 176). He even relates an anecdote (p. 177) about a thirteen year old who was taken into custody for hitting a parent, despite the objections of both the boy's parents to his arrest. This is an excellent example of the sort of case which would probably not have resulted in an arrest in earlier times; but as a result of the new mandatory domestic violence arrest law, this family tiff now becomes a new juvenile violent crime arrest statistic. Not surprisingly, this national trend towards requiring an arrest in every substantiated instance of domestic violence has coincided with a rising rate of juvenile domestic violence arrests along with a rise in adult domestic violence arrests. Yet Surgenor repeatedly cites juvenile domestic violence arrest rates as if they were entirely the result of more actual domestic violence by juveniles, with no regard for the obvious influence of the introduction of new mandatory arrest laws on the rate of arrests. Surgenor must surely be aware that the NCVS data on actual reported juvenile domestic violence crimes, (as opposed to arrests for crimes), has not shown nearly as sharp a rising trend as the UCR arrest rates have shown. The fact that individuals whose actions might previously not have led to arrest were now required by law to be placed under arrest for the same types of actions easily explains the differences between the UCR arrest rates and the NCVS crime reportage rate. But Surgenor simply ignores this along with all the rest of the NCVS data which contradicts his claim of an epidemic of juvenile violence.
In addition to an increase in arrests as a result of mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence, the period from the early 80's onwards has also coincided with an increase in public awareness of the problem of domestic violence, increased media attention to the issue, and in more school programs encouraging children to report incidents of domestic violence in their homes to teachers or other school officials. Sibling-sibling violence is by far the most common subtype of child-perpetrated domestic violence, according to the National Family Violence Surveys (Straus & Gelles, 1990, p. 452). These authors found that child violence against siblings was over thirty times as common as child violence against parents. Hence, even a relatively small percentage increase in child reports of domestic violence by siblings could have a pronounced upward effect on arrest rates due to the high prevalence of this form of child-perpetrated domestic violence. Unfortunately the UCR does not break down juvenile domestic violence arrest figures by relationship of victim to perpetrator, while the NCVS does not distinguish domestic assaults by juveniles from assaults by "children" who are over 18 years of age.
However, one subtype of juvenile domestic violence, murder of family members, is unlikely to be affected by changes in public mood and in arrest policies. Homicide is always treated as a crime of the most serious magnitude at all periods in history. Since a corpse is involved, both underreporting and specious reporting are not serious issues in homicide rates. If juveniles were truly committing more overall violence against family members, this trend should be reflected in higher rates of homicides against family members.
The following graph illustrates that no rise in rates of homicide by juvenile offenders against "Family" has occurred in tandem with the pre-1998 rise in juvenile arrests for "Offenses against Family and Children" in the UCR. This further supports the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics' view that rise in juvenile domestic violence arrests reflects changing policies towards domestic violence rather than an increase in actual cases of juvenile domestic violence. If an alleged cohort of unspanked children were truly committing unprecedented amounts of violence against family members, the body count ought to have increased in tandem. It hasn't.
| All of Surgenor's
arguments in defense of his claim of a national juvenile crime wave have
been shown to be without foundation. The only subtype of juvenile
violent crime arrest rates which was not in decline at the time Surgenor
wrote his book was domestic violence arrests. And with little empirical
support for the reality of a major juvenile wave of domestic violence,
as opposed to merely an increase in arrests, Surgenor has only one leg
left upon which to stand: his personal case files. On Page
Five, we shall conclude this review with an examination of the highly
questionable assertions Surgenor makes on the basis of his private case
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