SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta Police Department’s practices used in dealing with first time juvenile offenders are now being expanded thanks to a grant created by Det. Sgt. Jeffery  McCarrick.

The $27,563 grant is through Sussex County and the Center for Prevention. McCarrick said he had been working on the grant since 2018 with Sussex County Council on Juvenile Justice System Improvement, a subgroup of the SCYSC and the Juvenile Justice Commission at the state level.

“The state never saw [the initiative] on a county level so it slowed the process,” McCarrick said.

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A Memorandum of Agreement for the Juveniles Detention Alternatives Initiative or JDAI Innovations was approved at the last township council meeting. McCarrick said four towns in the county will be joining Sparta in this initiative.

The innovative program grew out of interactions with the Sussex County Youth Services Commission or SCYSC.  Sparta Police Chief Neil Spidaletto co-chairs that committee with Carol Novrit.  McCarrick was asked to sit in on the committee’s meeting.

McCarrick said Christine Florio, Division Director of Community and Youth Services plays a key role in this initiative.

The initiative looks to expand juvenile detention alternatives beyond curbside or station house adjustment. The grant funding will go to 10 small and large events where the youth will have community service requirements but also for “police to have engagement with them, so they are not just seen as a cop but as a person,” McCarrick said. “We are looking break down barriers and build trust.”

Community Service opportunities such as assisting with the Christmas Tree sale at the Sparta VFW will be replicated throughout the county in participating municipalities.  McCarrick said larger events such as hosting a cleanup day, a dinner dance evening, a barbecue or Cocoa with a Cop will have a component of education for juveniles “to reflect on what they did wrong and learn how they can give back.”

McCarrick said at these events, officers will talk with the juveniles about “low level crimes such as cyberbullying and criminal mischief.” He said they will discuss the immediate and long-term impacts from the criminal behavior.

“Cyber harassment is the most reported fourth degree crime,” McCarrick said, though many parents do not understand the serious implications of cyberbullying.

As one of the liaisons with Sparta schools, McCarrick is familiar with the intersection of school and municipal discipline concerns.  Sparta has long participated in a Station House Adjustment program, as do all municipalities in the state, following state guidelines.

In a station house adjustment, a first-time juvenile offender is required to do a number of things that, if successfully completed, will result in no record for the child.  Requirements can include community service, a letter of apology, restitution for damagesas well as a requirement that there are no further infractions. They are followed for a year by detectives to be sure the requirements are met.

“We have to think about it as a parent,” McCarrick said. “We would rather spend a little more time with [juveniles] so we don’t see them back here again” having committed worse offenses.

All towns do station house adjustments for fourth degree crimes and even third degree with input from the county prosecutor.  Guidelines do not recommend adjustments to be made for narcotics crimes, McCarrick said.

When there is criminal activity in the school, the school calls the police and calls the parents, letting them know the police have been contacted.

“We’re not here to jam up your son or daughter,” McCarrick said.  “We’re here to help them learn froGet your local news delivered to your inbox for FREE each day.  Subscribe to TAPinto Newton or Sparta   or Like us on TAPinto Newton facebook and  TAPinto Sparta facebook