Auto Theft Accountability: aimed at decreasing youth crime

DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) -- Over the last few years Scott County has seen a dramatic increase in auto theft. Police and juvenile officials are hoping a new accountability program will help.

Davenport resident Jayne Phelps is well familiar with what it feels like to have her car stolen.

“I had been looking, thinking, okay what I am going to do? What kind of car am I going to get,” said Phelps.

This past summer a stranger got inside her unlocked patio and took her belongings and her car. Phelps never expected to get it back.

“So when it was in Columbia, Missouri and when they hauled it back up here it was in good shape,” said Phelps.

Although the person that took the car was never caught. Phelps says she would have loved to sit down with them.

“Who they are and why they did it, was it just for a luck, did they need money or what the reason was,” said Phelps.

The Scott County Juvenile Detention Director Jeremy Kaiser is hoping to give her that experience. This Tuesday morning, he presented to the Scott County Board of Supervisors about a new program called ‘Auto Theft Accountability’. Kaiser got the idea from Oakland, California. The state has been operating the program for nine years.

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency found that within 12 months of youth completing the program in CA, 44 % were less likely to get a new sustained charge than youth who were processed through the juvenile legal system.

“They have to look their victim in the face and listen to the harm that's been done and also come up with a plan to try to repair the harm, so the victim can be whole again,” said Kaiser.

The way this will work is once a youth is charged with auto theft, they will be referred to the Auto Theft Accountability program. Their court proceedings will be put on hold while they complete the program for three months. However, if at any point they fail, they will go back to court proceedings. Just last year 180 juveniles were arrested for stealing cars. Of those 58% were new offenders.

“We are trying to engage the ones where this is their first charge ever,” said Kaiser. “To say hey, this is not the way you want to go and this is the harm you are doing in the community,”

Kaiser also hopes this will bring down the number of court cases increasing.

“In the time that they are waiting to come in front of a judge on the first crime,” said Kaiser. “They are stealing another car before they even get in front of a judge,”

For Phelps, she wishes this will help the youth before it’s too late.

“The thing is I don't think putting them in jail is going to be the answer, our jails are already too full, but I definitely think they have to be accountable in some way,” said Phelps.

Although the program might not resonate with repeat offenders, Kaiser says they have to start somewhere.

“We are going to try and save as many as we can, but unfortunately you just can't save everyone,” said Kaiser.

Kaiser says auto theft has had a direct impact on the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center. He says detaining a youth in juvenile detention is about $200 a day. Expenses for the program will be covered by an inter-governmental contract with Iowa Department of Human Services. The Scott County Board of Supervisors will vote on the program on Thursday. If approved it will start April first.