OUR YOUTH. OUR FUTURE. OUR RESPONSIBILITY.

As the sheriff of Broward County, I made a commitment to the public that the Broward Sheriff's Office would make it a priority to keep our kids in school and out of jail. In one of my first staff meetings with my new administration, we discussed the topic of juvenile civil citations. During the discussion, I began looking through youth arrest records and came across a name I recognized. It was one of the players I coached in football. Because his crime was a misdemeanor, he could have been eligible for a diversion program, which would have kept his name out of the courts and off the record. Unfortunately, he had been arrested instead.

The focus of the Civil Citation Program is to educate youth about the consequences of their actions while addressing their needs and diverting cases from the criminal court system. While young people make up 30 percent of our population, they are 100 percent of our future. We need to work towards building this future.

The direct benefits of the Civil Citation Program extend beyond the youthful offender. The program also saves millions of tax dollars that would otherwise be spent on other juvenile justice system operations. To move an offender through the traditional criminal court system costs about $5,000 and takes about eight months. In contrast, it costs only about $500 and takes 45-60 days to put someone through the Civil Citation Program.

The lasting effect of a criminal record has the potential to derail the future of a child. It can affect future employment, military service or scholarship opportunities. In an effort to address this concern, I mandated that all deputies issue a civil citation to any youthful offender who is suspected of committing a first-time misdemeanor offense. In lieu of an arrest, the youth agrees to participate in community service and any necessary intervention services.

Any young individual in our community could one day grow to become a great sheriff, lawyer or teacher. However, this success could be hindered by a tarnished criminal record. The Broward Sheriff's Office is committed to helping these kids get into the right programs and on the right track. Change can already be seen in the numbers. In the first half of 2013, 175 youth have been referred to the Civil Citation Program, which is a monumental comparison to only 68 who were referred in all of 2012.

As law enforcement officers, our worth should be measured by how many children we keep out of jail, not how many we arrest. I firmly believe one mistake made in the teenage years should not invalidate or discourage anyone from a successful future. Today's children are tomorrow's future, and we must invest in every individual. Diverting first-time offenders through programs to help keep their records clean and teach them responsibility gives them a second chance for a better life.

For more information about the Broward County Civil Citation Program, please visit http://www.broward.org/HumanServices/CivilCitation.

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