The new year has brought new changes to the City of Erie Police Department, specifically as a Juvenile Crime Unit.

A new Juvenile Crime Unit hit the streets of Erie this month.

Funded by American Rescue Plan money from COVID, the unit has four Erie City police detectives dedicated to following up on crimes with juveniles involved.

The City of Erie has seen an increase in violent crimes with juveniles as both suspects and victims. Chief Dan Spizarney hopes bringing this unit back, which was dissolved in 2005 due to budget cuts, will combat the rise in incidents.

"A juvenile now, 18 or 19, could have left a trail of crime and problems behind them that weren't really addressed," said Chief Spizarney. "There's more juvenile diversion programs out there that will hopefully prevent, or help these kids from becoming involved in a life of crime. Catch them early, get them reset."

At the Crime Victim Center of Erie, there is hope the juvenile unit can bring together resources across the city that holds kids accountable but also offers education and second chances, recognizing home life and other mental health factors are involved.

"It brings the attention back to the kid and says your not a bad kid," said Paul Lukach, Executive Director of the Crime Victim Center of Erie. "You did some bad things, lets fix it. Lets move on. Lets get you in a place where you are productive and happy in your life."

The juvenile unit has met criticism. The City of Erie allocated 40% of its budget to police in 2023, and one local policy researcher notes the ARP money could be used to address causes of violence.

44.6% of Erie's child population growing up in poverty, a statistic that the CDC says makes gun violence 5x more likely than the average U.S. City.

"When I hear this, I think we need to take a public health approach to violence prevention," said Susannah Faulkner, Local Policy Researcher. "Its not simply that we need to police our kids more. We need to address the underlying causes of violence."

National research is mixed on the results of increasing juvenile enforcement. Time will show how Erie's juvenile unit balances accountability and cause. 

National research is mixed on the results of increasing juvenile enforcement.