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Arrests of Okaloosa and Walton juveniles down 24% and 10% respectively; COVID-19 a factor

Kevin Robinson
Northwest Florida Daily News

While most Florida counties saw fewer juvenile arrests year-over-year, Okaloosa County was ahead of the curve while Walton County was slightly behind it.

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice released its Fiscal Year 2019-2020 delinquency profile report this week. The report indicates that statewide, juvenile arrests declined 17% and felony juvenile arrests declined 16% when compared to the previous fiscal year.  

In Okaloosa and Walton counties, juvenile arrests dropped 24% and 10% respectively. Juvenile felony arrests fell 23% in Okaloosa County, while in Walton County they dropped 9%.

Juvenile arrests in Okaloosa County fell 24% for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. They dropped 10% in Walton County, while statewide juvenile arrests fell 17% for the fiscal year.

The DJJ report notes that while the COVID-19 pandemic and the related school shutdowns contributed to the lower numbers statewide, the decreases continue a multi-year trend of fewer juvenile arrests. The 2019-2020 fiscal year marks a 45-year low for the state, according to the agency.

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Looking at Okaloosa County specifically, there were 699 juvenile arrests in FY 2019-2020, compared to 915 in FY 2018-2019. For juvenile felony arrests, the totals were 185 in FY 2019-2020 and 241 the year before.

Along with the 185 felony arrests, FY 2019-2020 DJJ data shows that about half of the juveniles arrested in Okaloosa County, 346, were booked for misdemeanor offenses such as petty theft, loitering and battery. The remaining 168 arrests were tied to "other offenses" such as violation of probation and contempt of court.

Across the county line, Walton County saw its juvenile arrests dip slightly from 200 to 181 and its felony arrests stay fairly flat at 47 in FY 2018-2019 and 43 in FY 2019-2020.

Misdemeanor arrests plunged from 137 to 97, but arrests for other offenses shot up from 16 to 41.

The DJJ online delinquency profile dashboard notes that "with COVID-19 related shutdowns and school closings throughout the state, the number of arrests during FY 2019-2020 was abnormally low."

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Still, a news release from the DJJ and Gov. Ron DeSantis says while the COVID-19 pandemic impacted juvenile arrests, trends indicate these arrests would have continued downward despite the public health emergency.

The release states Florida has been recognized as a national leader in innovative, evidence-based approaches to juvenile justice that emphasize prevention, early intervention services and rehabilitative services for youth in the deeper end of the juvenile justice system. 

“This historic low in juvenile arrests reflects our commitment to public safety in Florida and in keeping our young people from going down the wrong path,” DeSantis said in a written statement. “We will continue to work with our dedicated law enforcement and community partners to keep Florida safe and provide all Florida youth with the opportunity to achieve their full potential and have a better, brighter future.”

The full delinquency profile is available under the "research" heading at djj.state.fl.us/.