Juvenile crime in Multnomah County dropped 11 percent in 2007, according to a new report from the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice.
The department's annual survey also found that juvenile recidivism is at the lowest rate in six years, and that the rate fell more sharply than the statewide average.
Compared to Oregon's overall rate of recidivism, which decreased by half of one percent from 2005 to 2006, Multnomah County's re-incarceration rate decreased 1. 9 percent.
Dave Koch, Assistant Director of the Department of Community Justice, oversees the juvenile division. The department serves approximately 1,000 youth and 9,000 adults.
"It's probably the steepest decline in one year that we've ever seen," Koch said.
While the number is significant, he said it's hard to pin the improvement on a specific initiative or program.
"That's perhaps the most difficult question to answer because no agency can take credit," he said. "I think a lot has to do with the parents, the schools – keeping kids in school lowers the crime rate – social service agencies, police, law enforcement has a role," Koch said. "Probation officers – without their involvement and supervision it would not be possible to support the kids."
According to Koch, "The real challenge will be, is it sustainable?"
He notes that last year's juvenile crime rated jumped three percent, although the trend is that juvenile crime is going downward.
Researcher Charlene Rhyme said the study is rigorous because it's built on methodology that's been developed over the past decade.
"In the last 10 years we've taken the same data from the same source, using the same analysis and the same time frame," she said. "A reduction of 11 percent in one year is notable."
Statewide and in Multnomah County, recidivism has steadily dropped since 2001: In the last six years, the county saw a five-point drop in its juvenile recidivism rate.
Data show the number of youth ages 1 to 17 living in Multnomah County has increased.
In Multnomah County, person offenses continue to drop, which has been a trend for the last nine years. In 2007, person offenses such as sex offenses and assaults decreased by 10.9 percent. Property crimes have also dropped considerably.
"Ninety four percent of youth in Multnomah County were not involved in the juvenile justice system," Koch said. "This is important for people to know because the perception is that juvenile crime is rampant and nothing is being done about it, when in fact it's not rampant."
The majority of the youth in the justice system committed non-violent offenses. Seventy eight percent of the recidivating offenses were non-violent crimes.
While the overall and violent juvenile crime fell in the last year, the rates of robberies and weapons charges have increased. There were 19 more weapons referrals and 12 more robbery referrals, out of a total 3,692 referrals in 2007. Homicides increased to 8 in 2007, more closely aligned with total number of homicide offenses in years prior to 2006.
Even in times of budget reduction the department's juvenile services focus on the highest-risk youth. Intensive probation supervision complemented by a diverse continuum of community-based services is designed to intervene and change delinquent behavior.