Youth arrests up for violence, guns in

More San Francisco kids are being arrested for carrying weapons as well as committing robberies and assaults, representing a growing trend of more violent juveniles, according to city data.

Between 2002 and 2006, data show a sharp increase in the amount of weapons charges, robberies and assaults attributed to those younger than 18 years old. One of the most troubling statistics is the robbery numbers, according to Assistant Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Allen Nance. There were 354 arrests for robbery in 2006, compared with 225 in 2002.

“A lot of it has to do with technological devices, such as laptops, iPods and phones,” Nance said before the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee on Monday. “They make especially attractive targets for juveniles because they’re not only portable but they’re also easy to resell.”

Aggravated assaults have also seen a steady increase with 273 reported in 2006, the most in the five-year span. Juveniles were also booked on 89 weapons offenses in 2006, more than double the amount in 2002. The weapons charges appear to reflect an increasing number of minors carrying guns, Nance said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s spokesman, Nathan Ballard, said the increase in arrests is appropriate for crimes that disrupt public safety but said the mayor does not want to see more kids behind bars. Ballard noted that Newsom issued an executive order in May 2007 that calls for reducing the population of Juvenile Hall by instituting alternative sentencing.

“We will ensure that juvenile detention is used only when necessary: for serious offenders, and those who pose a threat to public safety,” Ballard said.

In November 2005, Newsom expressed support for an anti-violence platform, put forth bycommunity groups brought together by the nonprofit San Francisco Organizing Project, that included such measures as creating more small schools, health care and job training.

Toy guns cause problems at schools

A 13-year-old is facing felony assault charges for shooting more than one A.P. Giannini Middle School student with a pellet gun earlier this month. The incident is just one of many in which students bring the toy guns — which are remarkably similar to real guns — to school.

The teenager shot students in the legs on Feb. 11 with the gun as a means of robbing them of their belongings, according to police. The 13-year-old will most likely be expelled and could face serious jail time, school district representative Gentle Blythe said.

“Using a weapon at school, anything that can cause harm, is obviously grounds for expulsion,” Blythe said, adding that there have already been a couple incidents where the guns have been confiscated this year.

Many kids bring the guns to school when they’re being picked on, according to Assistant Chief Probation Officer Allen Nance, although sometimes students use the guns for a “fear factor.”

“From a victim’s perspective, it doesn’t matter if it’s a real gun or a fake gun,” Nance said.

Designed to look like the real thing, air guns — which shoot pellets — have only a small orange tip to identify them as a fake, but often owners paint the tips to match. This adds to the danger of the weapons, according to law enforcement officials, and led state legislators to pass a law in 2005 that makes it a misdemeanor offense to brandish any imitation firearm in a public place.

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