Paynesville area not immune to crime

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 11/19/96.

Everyday the media is full of stories about the rising crime rate and how the number of juveniles in trouble has doubled. Even small towns like Paynesville are not immune to juvenile crime. This week, in part one, the Paynesville Press explores some of the problems the community is facing. In part two, weâll talk about some solutions.

Law enforcement personnel and people in the Paynesville community, who have been affected by crimes, feel the community needs to be made aware of what is happening.

To help the community better understand what is happening in the community and at school, the Paynesville Press talked with the school administration, students in the middle school and high school, law enforcement officers, school counselors, probation officers, and local families who were personally affected by juvenile crime.

Paynesville is not immune to the rising statistics. Police Chief Bill Drager said that within the last two years, the number of vandalisms done by juveniles has doubled, and the type of crimes, such as thefts and shoplifting, are on the rise. The number of assaults reported have skyrocketed. ăWe used to have only two assaults a month, now we get reports of three per week,ä he added.

ăThe kids are becoming more and more violent,ä Drager said. ăWe are finding weapons more often. When searching a car, we find baseball bats. When asked why, the kids respond, ăfor protection.ä The kids doing hard core crimes are getting younger (11 and 12 years old).ä Drager said hard core crimes are when kids show no remorse, despise authority, and arenât afraid of what they say or do.

Steve Holmquist, Stearns County juvenile probation officer for 25 years, said juvenile problems are on the increase. In 1995-96, his department worked with 1,300 individuals.

What are juvenile offenses? Juvenile offenses are offenses that adults cannot be arrested for: loitering, violating curfew and running away. Juveniles who violate alcohol, tobacco laws or other ordinances that apply only to youth are referred to as juvenile petty offenders.

Offenses committed by adults and juveniles alike are divided into two categories, Part I and Part II. Part I crimes deal with homicide, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, car theft and arson. Part II offenses include other assaults, forgery, counterfeiting fraud, embezzlement; buying, receiving or possessing stolen property; vandalism or destruction of property; violating weapons laws; prostitution and sex offenses; narcotic drug and liquor violations; gambling violations; offenses against family and children; driving under the influence; disorderly conduct; and disturbing the peace, vagrancy.

In looking at state statistics, the numbers vary greatly from Stearns, Kandiyohi and Meeker County. Holmquist explained various counties report things differently, making for a lot of variables in the statistics. ăSmaller towns handle things more informally so many incidents donât reach the court system and reports are not turned over to the state,ä he added.
The Minnesota Criminal Justice Center showed in 1994, Kandiyohi County reported 905 juvenile offenses; Stearns County recorded 1,574 and Meeker County 129.

Stearns County records show in 1993 the total number of calls (adults and juveniles) was nearly 13,000; 1994 was down to 12,182 and 1995 showed an increased to 13,371. The types of crimes are about the same with the exception of violent crimes, up four percent in 1994 and up five percent in 1995.

A day doesnât go by that people donât read or hear about juvenile crimes in the news. In the Minneapolis Star Tribune last week was a story about a high school wrestler in Connecticut facing charges of rape. In Grand Rapids, Minn., a juvenile male was taken into custody after he allegedly shot at and hit at least three vehicles on Highway 169.

Closer to home, New London residents are still mourning the loss of two people who were kidnapped and killed by a 15-year-old.

Juveniles have created problems in Paynesville too. Examples are: fighting at football games which in one incident sent a student to the hospital. During Homecoming Week, juveniles set a stack of hay bales on fire, causing an estimated $3,000 in damages. On Halloween night, a car was egged, creating the need for the owner to have it repainted.

Holmquist felt Stearns County is bound to have an increase in crime, considering the population growth. From 1991 to 1995 Stearns County arrested about four percent adults or 1 out of every 100 adults and 12 percent juveniles per year or 1 out of every 100 juveniles. The average age of the juvenile offender is 15 to 16 years and they have seen them as young as eight or nine. A child isnât considered delinquent until they reach the age of 10. Children younger than 10 just need more adult supervision, he added.

Holmquist said when a child goes wrong, there are usually a combination of things contributing: poor parental supervision, wrong choice of peer groups, and an absence of involvement in activities.

An extreme measure for the probation department is to remove a child from the home. ăWe try to work on problems in the home and community as much as possible,ä Holmquist said. ăIf the parents are unfit or the home canât provide the necessary structure for the child, the child is removed. It is very unusual a child isnât returned to the home at some point.ä

Local family experiences assault crime
Two Paynesville families experienced the affects of an assault firsthand this summer. They were outraged because the girl (attacker) was a juvenile and their hands were tied.

Audrey Olmscheid, Paynesville, said she was alarmed that in broad daylight someone would attack her daughter for no reason and with little regard for the two children she was babysitting. ăThe attack happened near the elementary school and nobody bothered to call 911 or come to her rescue,ä Olmscheid said.

Her daughter was babysitting the children of Steve and Brenda Stang. The 14-month-old toddler was in the child seat on the bicycle and his 10-year-old sister was bicycling beside them. All of a sudden, a pickup with three or four juveniles pulled up, a teenage girl jumped out, pushed the bicycle over and started kicking the babysitter. She was bruised all over from the kicking,ä Olmscheid said. The police took pictures to document the attack.

ăI researched her story and believe my daughter is innocent. I know she isnât perfect, but not a bad kid. She literally did nothing to her attacker. My daughter pleaded with her attacker to let her get the toddler out of the bike seat as he was crying. She wouldnât let her touch the child. The toddlerâs 10-year-old sister had to go to his rescue,ä Olmscheid said.

The attacker even threatened the Olmscheid girl that if she talked to the police, she would come after her and kill her. Olmscheid said she wasnât going to let a ninth grader control her life or that of her family. Police records show the attacker had also assaulted another teen the same evening and a court hearing has been scheduled for both incidents. The attacker is charged with child endangerment.

ăThis wonât be the first time the attacker has been to court. Getting the girl out of town wonât solve the problem. We need community involvement. If a person sees anything wrong, get involved,ä Olmscheid said. By calling 911 for an emergency, a personâs name is always kept confidential.

The Stangs returned home shortly after the assault took place. They panicked when they saw a police car in their driveway, thinking the worst. Paynesville Police Officer Bruce Elfering was on call and explained to the Stangs what had happened within a block of their home.

ăOur 10-year-old suffered emotional trauma from the incident. She was scared and didnât know what to do. How much harm can something like this do to a child?ä the Stangs asked. They were outraged by the attackerâs actions. They kept wanting to know why and sought out more information about the attacker involved.

ăWe talked about preventive measures, talked with the attackerâs grandmother and came up with a lot of dead ends. The attacker has been in detention before and will probably come back angrier,ä the Stangs said.

ăWe were fortunate our son wasnât injured when the bike was tipped over. A lot of things could have happened,ä the Stangs said. It took the Stangs a while before they would let their daughter ride her bike beyond their property line or even around the block.

ăWhat happened this summer made us open our eyes to what is going on in our community,ä Stangs said. ăOur son and daughter never harmed anybody nor did our babysitter. Right now, we are afraid for our babysitterâs sake because this girl knows the incident was reported. We donât know what will happen next,ä they said.

The Stangs and Olmscheids asked themselves the question, what has happened to the system and why are kids changing so much? They donât know the answer and neither do a lot of other people with whom they have talked. Paynesville isnât as safe as people think, they said. Is it societyâs fault? Other communities are having the same problems as Paynesville.

Olmscheid realizes demands on parents are changing and that a child changes as a result sometimes. ăWe have to accept the fact our children have faults. But the community needs to get involved and work together to help our children.

She cited several other incidents which have occurred this year at home football games. ăIâm surprised at the violence kids are willing to do in the name of retribution,ä she said.

ăIn my daughterâs case, no one saw the incident that I am aware of or they were unwilling to get involved. I urge people to get involved, ask questions if you see something that isnât right or call 911,ä Olmscheid stressed.

Both the Stangs are Paynesville Ambulance personnel. They recall seeing juveniles in the city park at 2 or 3 a.m. on several occasions when they head out on emergency calls.

According to the Paynesville City Ordinance, anyone under 18 is considered a minor (juvenile). The curfew states it is unlawful for any minor to be in public places between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. the following day. It is also unlawful for any parent or guardian to allow or permit the minor to be out in public places without a parent or guardian at those hours.

Do the parents of these juveniles know they are in the parks at early morning hours? Do the parents care? Police Chief Bill Drager and his officers can pick up the juveniles and call their parents, but they end up babysitting these teens instead of patroling the streets of Paynesville because the parents donât always come to pick up their child when called.

School personnel talk about problems
Dave Mutschelknaus, middle and elementary school counselor, counsel over 100 students a year about violence, assaults and problems they are having in school and at home.

He said the number of students having problems in school is stable but that the type of problems are more severe. Three years ago Mutschelknaus was assaulted in the middle school by a student. ăKids are more physically and verbally violent and have a different view of authority,ä he feels.

He has also been assaulted by a second grader in the classroom. The teacher and Mutschelknaus were both stunned by the incident and it took a while for the classroom to calm down.

Students hitting teachers is occurring more often, he added. Schools across the state are needing to hire aides to monitor emotionally disturbed kids in the classroom and hallways to protect other kids.

ăMany of our problems come from dealing with parents who defend their childâs actions. If we are going to help these students, we need the cooperation of the parents. Parents are blaming the teachers for making their child do something he or she didnât want to do in class,ä Mutschelknaus said.

The kids seem to know what they are doing but the parents just make excuses for them. The parents have their own agenda which often gets in the way of helping their kids curb their anger, he added

Jackie Campbell, Paynesville Area High School counselor, agreed that the juvenile problems are a growing concern at school and often carry over into the community. One of the biggest problems seen in the high school is sexual and general harassment. Campbell said the more violent problems go straight to the principalâs office (John Janotta).

ăI used to talk to two or three students per month on harassment problems but that number has changed to once a week,ä Campbell said.

Campbell said harassment and many assault problems occur at the lower grade levels. As the students get older, their maturity level increases and less incidents are reported.

When problems occur in the school, Campbell or Janotta sit down and talk with the students. The parents are called in depending on the incident, but that seldom occurs, she said. If they have questions about the seriousness of an incident, Office Dan Winkles, liaison officer with the Stearns County Sheriffâs Department is called or Police Chief Drager.

Many times people accuse the school administration of covering up incidents which happen at school. ăWe are only human and arenât always aware of what is happening,ä Janotta said. ăParents and students are afraid to report incidents which would suspend a student. They donât want to get involved because they are afraid of repercussions which would affect their family.ä

Janotta said discipline problems in the school have increased over the years instead of getting better. From 1993 to 1995 the number of discipline notices has risen from 302 to 456. Last year, there were 26 students with drinking violations reported.

ăWhat we see happening is the type of activities and conduct changing in the school and community,ä Janotta said. ăI feel it is a reflection on society. You canât turn on television without seeing disrespect for parents and friends on nearly every program. Kids are watching more movies in the home which they wouldnât be allowed to see in a theatre. The increase of pure violence and raw language is climbing and many people take it for granted because they hear it so often.ä

Janotta feels part of the problem in our community is that everyone is becoming more and more liberal and accepting things and actions our parents would never have accepted.

Janotta said the times are definitely changing but the good still outweighs the bad. Compared to some of my colleagues, we donât have many problems. But we canât afford to sit back and wait for things to happen. We need to keep school and community pride in the forefront.

Reported high school incidents in 1995

High school league
drinking violations 26
Class disruptions 80
Harassment 21
Smoking 15
Skipping school 50
Vandalism 8
Verbal assault 4
Physical assault 4
Fighting 13
Driving inappropriately 7
Dangerous threats 7
Attitude problem 27

In the last two years, the school has done surprise locker searches for drugs with the use of specially trained dogs through the Stearns County Sheriffâs Department. Did they find anything? Sometimes, but not always, was the word the Press received from the school administration.

Deb Gillman, middle school principal, said kids have a real sense of fairness and justice. Eighty percent of the fights in the middle school are between friends. But that is natural when you have 350 students in the halls at one time and all trying to get to their lockers and to their next class in three minutes. There is bound to be accidental shoving. However, not all the students consider it accidental and then the fights start.

School isnât a violent place, Gillman said, but kids are more aggressive in their behavior to others than five or ten years ago. ăWe are seeing, reflected in society, what kids watch on television. On television, some of the putdowns get the biggest laughs, so kids donât see why they canât do it for real,ä she added.

Gillman has been the middle school principal four years and feels the discipline notices have doubled. ăParents have a lot of control and their support is crucial if we are going to be successful in disciplining their child for fighting or harassment. Many parents allow their kids to talk back, swear at home and that makes it harder to curb at school,ä she said.

She added the term ăcock-offä is becoming more prevalent. When kids tell me someone ăcocked-offä to them, they get the impression the other kids are asking for trouble and a fight usually breaks out, be it in school or at a football game.

When talking with middle school students, the majority agreed stealing, fighting or harassment is okay, if you donât get caught.

Most of the students donât see anything wrong in fighting. They said they have seen parents and other adults cheering on students in fights with other students, instead of breaking up the fight. They asked, what kind of message does that send kids? They didnât feel it was a good message.

Many of the students the Press talked with said they wouldnât try breaking up a fight because they would be the one getting hurt in the long run. However, most kids feel their parents would stop a fight they were in and they would probably get grounded at home as a result.

The students said it is a natural reaction for kids to want to get back or get even with someone who wronged them. Turning the other cheek and saying thatâs okay, donât do it again, doesnât get the message across that you donât want to get involved.

When asked about underage drinking, the kids felt many of their classmates were drinking on a regular basis. They also agreed they had easy access to alcohol through their parents and friends. The teens felt they could go into certain area bars or liquor stores and purchase alcohol without being questioned about their age, and many had done it.

When talking with the middle school students, the Press asked how many in the group had tried drinking? Three out of about 20 students raised their hand. In the high school classes, about half the class said they had tried drinking, but didnât necessarily like it. Many said drinking wasnât worth all the hype. ăYou may feel cool while drinking with others, but I hated the sick feeling I had afterwards,ä one teen said.

The kids realize drinking to be cool isnât the right reason, but they do it anyway. As teenagers, they feel if they want older friends they have to drink. One high school student said it takes more courage to walk into a party with a coke in your hand than a drink.

Other students said peer pressure plays a big role in who drinks. A lot of it has to do with who you are with. If you are by yourself it is easier to say no than when you are with a group of friends. Others drink as a challenge to see if they can get away with it.

Many of the high school students said they were offended because they were often accused of drinking because they associated with students who drink.

Some of the students said too much emphasis is placed on the drinking age limit in the United States. In Germany, there is no law and they donât have a problem with kids drinking. The law draws attention to underage drinking. Students said one of the reasons they drink is because nobody cares about them, parents or teachers.

Some of the students blamed their problems on their parents because they were not at home enough. They feel the parents need to take more responsibility for their children and instill some morals into their family life. Some of the kids stressed they would like to see more family traditions. They said their family never sits down for a meal together. They blamed society because the parents or the kids always have to rush through a meal in order to get to a meeting or activity on time.

Rick Hoyme, pastor of Paynesville Lutheran and a member of the Families First board, feels kids are asking for structure. ăThe students I talked with said no matter who they idolize, they still consider their parents the number one people in their lives to copy,ä he added.

Next week, in part two, the Press will cover solutions. Information is provided by Families First, Officer Dan Winkles, Stearns County Liaison officer, and Jay Keift, Kandiyohi County Probation officer, to help area residents and students.

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