The City Attorney Needs to Implement a Holistic Approach When Dealing With Our Children
By Vince Bobot
The most obvious involvement the City Attorney has with dealing and interacting with our youth is in the Milwaukee Municipal Court. Numerous violations ranging from possession of alcohol or marijuana, assault and battery, theft, and many others are referred to Municipal Court for prosecution. Typically, ordinance violations are considered minor in nature and do not warrant criminal prosecution. However, when examining those minor violations in relation to our youth that assumption is flawed. As your next City Attorney, I will ensure that a holistic approach is employed for each and every child that is referred to Municipal Court.
Many people commit minor law infractions that can be dealt with a fine. This is not the case with our youth. A child who commits a battery upon another person or is cited for loitering outside a known drug house, among a host of other law violations, a fine is just simply not going to address an emerging problem in that child’s life. We must make a greater effort to find out “what’s going on” and do something more than a fine to deter further criminal conduct. More importantly, block a future path to our prison system by the child.
During my four years as a Municipal Court judge, I heard numerous cases involving children. I would hold the court hearing in my chambers oftentimes with the parent/guardian and child. I would ask the child for their plea to the violation and if it was guilty or no contest, I would then ask them why they committed it. Predominantly the answer by the child was, “I wasn’t thinking”. Yet that answer did not square with the violation that was before me. You don’t steal, batter another person, loiter around a drug house because you were not thinking. Something else was going on in their lives. I knew it and so did their parent/guardian.
The point that I am making is that the City Attorney’s Office is in a very important and pivotal position in dealing with the lives of our children. Simply reviewing a non-traffic ordinance violation, sending it to court and letting the chips fall where they may is a recipe for disaster. The City Attorney must do a lot more.
First, I propose that the parent/guardian attend the court hearing with their child. Parental involvement is critically important. The next thing that must be done is a thoughtful, critical analysis of the alleged violation by the City Attorney’s office. I will demand that all my prosecutors do just that. It will no longer be acceptable for a prosecutor to pay little attention to the parent/guardian and child in dealing with violations before the court.
Finally, a strong effort must be made by the City Attorney’s office to fashion a proposed resolution that offers incentives to avoid a conviction, convince the child to obey the law, and prevent future law infractions. A fine or performing community service is not going to get the job done.
My initial proposal will be to develop a plan in Municipal Court that expands what is currently being done. In addition to community service or referral to social service agencies, we need to seek the help from outside sources; such as, faith-based and nonprofit organizations who are willing to work with our youth. We must develop effective ways and means to address the problems in a child’s life.
I feel it is important to keep the child busy. Idle hands and minds are the devil’s workshop. Therefore, we must involve the child in activities that they want to be involved in and occupies much of their free time.
So, I propose that the parent/guardian, child, prosecutor and court develop a schedule where the child has time to participate in activities that keep them out of trouble. That entails exposing the child and his/her parent/guardian to resources available in our community.
My proposal is just a beginning. Yet it is something to address the lack of involvement by the City Attorney’s office in dealing with children. As your next City Attorney, I will be constantly searching for ways to impact the lives of our children in a positive way. We must do more! Indifference or inaction when dealing with our children is unacceptable.
Vote Bobot for City Attorney, Primary Election Feb. 18.