School’s In, Crime’s…Out?

SLPD Chief Chris Cole details how crime rates can be unintentionally deceitful.
School’s In, Crime’s…Out?

On July 20, 2023, the Storm Lake Police Department released a statement on their public Facebook page in regard to a series of incidents involving Storm Lake youth. The post stated the following:  

Storm Lake Police Department officers and detectives have been busy working on a series of violent incidents involving Storm Lake youth in the past weeks. Public safety is not just the responsibility of the police. It requires a collaborative effort from all of us. Especially parents. Parents can play a pivotal role in shaping a safer community by engaging in their children’s lives and holding them accountable for their actions.” 

The comparisons of juvenile arrests from January to August of 2022 and 2023.

In data provided by the Storm Lake Police Department, the total number of juvenile arrests in the time frame of January to August 2022 totaled 127. In 2023, the number increased to 204. While such an increase may seem troublesome, Chris Cole, the chief of police of Storm Lake, wanted to assure the public that Storm Lake is a safe place to live and that public safety is a responsibility that is not only on local law enforcement but on the community as well, particularly parents.

“Parents have the right to know what their children are doing on their phones,” Cole said.

While Cole placed emphasis on electronics, he expanded upon how parents can help the SLPD curb juvenile delinquency.  

“If [your kids] are going out, ask them where they’re going. Ask them who they’re going to be with. Ask them what they’re going to be doing so they [the parents] know,” Cole said.  

As a father himself, Cole has his own personal attachment to this topic.  

“It’s frustrating as police officers and as a parent as well. It’s your job as a parent to be involved with your children,” Cole said. 

People often assume that with school being back in session, local law enforcement may finally get a bit of a break, at least, as far as juvenile delinquency goes. However, Cole explained that this isn’t the case.  

“The number of crimes could potentially rise higher during the school year because you have all of these eyes on the kids…there’s a better chance they’re going to get caught. In the summer, those same kinds of crimes are still occurring,” Cole said.  

Cole elaborated upon the idea that the recorded crime rate can actually increase after the start of the school year by offering a hypothetical scenario:

“The numbers can be very deceptive. If a major store is in Storm Lake — if they don’t have a loss prevention person who is looking for shoplifting…there are people stealing merchandise in that store. They just don’t have anybody that’s detecting it. So, you have 12 months of nobody working in loss prevention and then you give loss prevention a job in that same store. Now you have 12 months with a person that’s looking for theft. Your theft charges are gonna skyrocket because now there is someone there watching for shoplifters and they’re catching shoplifters and having them arrested,” Cole said. 

Richard Riner, a professor of criminology at Buena Vista University and a former police officer, agreed with Cole on the importance of family structure in curbing juvenile delinquency.  

“This is one of those few things where social sciences have almost a consensus with regard to the importance that family plays in the development of juvenile behavior. Family has been seen as the number one most important influencer,” Riner said.  

If there were any Storm Lake residents who found themselves worried about the future of Storm Lake due to an increase in juvenile crime this last summer, Cole and Riner both assure people not to worry.  

“We’re still talking about a very short time period in a specific location. That shouldn’t be construed as a harbinger of things to come. Violent crime rates have been in pretty steady decline since the early to mid-90s,” Riner said.  

“Storm Lake is a safe community,” Cole said. “These types of crimes happen in all kinds of other cities. It’s important for all of us, including kids on campus [at Buena Vista University], to take an active role in community safety.” 

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