Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about two recent cases in which Baker
City juveniles are accused of vandalism sprees is that the incidents
seemed, well, noteworthy.
They're conspicuous because they're rare.
And they've been rare for more than a decade.
In 1998, the Baker City Police Department handled 620 juvenile crime cases.
The next year the total plummeted by almost half, to 343.
In the past few years there have been fewer than 100.
Police and school officials give much credit for this gratifying trend to the creation, in 1998, of the school resource officer (SRO) position.
The SRO is a police officer who works at the high school and middle school, serving as a sort of liaison between students and law enforcement.
We agree that the presence of the SRO contributed to the significant decline in juvenile crime.
But other factors helped, too.
Chief among them is the variety of activities available to kids during the summer.
From art classes at Crossroads, to the camp at the Baker Heritage Museum, to vacation Bible schools at several churches, to the free lunch program and the always-free Baker County Library, there's no shortage of worthwhile pursuits for youngsters.
The SRO, unfortunately, was eliminated last year due to tight budgets for the school district, which paid 65 percent of the officer's salary and benefits, and the city, which paid the rest.
The city applied for a federal grant to pay for the SRO, but the application was rejected last year. The 2009-10 school year was the first since 1997-98 in which there was no SRO on duty.
It's quite a stretch, certainly, to conclude that the officer's one-year absence has anything to do with this summer's vandalism at the former Churchill School in Baker City, or with the tire-slashing and other damage inflicted here and in Haines. A total of 17 boys and girls, between the ages of 9 and 15, have been charged in those incidents.
Yet even without definitive proof that canceling the SRO program somehow encouraged the recent rash of vandalism, we're pleased that the city and school district have decided to resurrect the SRO, although the officer probably won't start work until January.
We don't believe that it's pure coincidence that the combination of an SRO and a full slate of summer activities coincided with the precipitous drop in juvenile crime in Baker City over the past dozen years.
We support all efforts to deter kids from committing crimes.
We'd rather be shocked by the occasional - and inevitable - spate of lawlessness than become so used to such episodes that we hardly notice them.