Teens condemn crime spree | AspenTimes.com

Teens condemn crime spree

John Colson

An informal survey of local teen-agers indicates most kids think last year’s crime spree in Aspen and Snowmass Village was wrong, and that they do not view the teens involved as “heroes” to be emulated.

The teens were surveyed by a local psychologist and a local tutor who works with students in the public schools. They predominantly said they feel that local law enforcement authorities were correct in punishing the teens involved, and that the 12 teens linked with the crimes are not typical of Aspen youths in general.

The crimes, which occurred between January and September 1999, included armed robberies of a theater, two area grocery stores and a condominium complex office, as well as burglaries of local businesses and a home.

Five of the 12 youths involved, all of whom were locals who attended local schools, have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Four have received probationary sentences, and three are awaiting trial on the charges against them.

The survey was conducted by psychologist Gerald Alpern and tutor Joyce Meredith, who both said they would like to do more to explore the feelings of local youngsters. The pair have invited any interested locals to e-mail them (the address is AspenYouth@aol.com) with comments, ideas and suggestions about where to take things from here. In addition, Alpern said this week he has put together an informal agreement among a group of professional therapists in Aspen to offer their services free of charge to local teen-agers who may be “at risk” of anti-social or criminal behavior.

The group has not met with Aspen school officials, but Alpern said this week that his peers are “all for the idea” and will be talking about it as a meeting of therapists and counselors in early May.

According to Meredith, the 44 high school students who filled out the survey do not represent what is known as a statistically “random sampling,” since they were either students she has been tutoring, friends of those students, or high schoolers involved in programs at the Aspen Youth Center.

Respondents to the questionnaire anonymously answered 13 questions. There was also space for any comments the kids wished to make. School officials were not contacted about the survey, and had nothing to do with it. The results A summary of Alpern’s and Meredith’s analysis of the results was typed up and distributed to the local media.

According to those results, 58 percent of those who filled out the survey described the 12 involved in the crime spree as “criminals that should be punished,” 37 percent said the 12 were not the kind of people they’d like to hang around with, and 26 percent “rated them as jerks.”

A small number of respondents (4 percent) said the 12 were “exciting guys they like to hang with,” and one “indicated he would like to be like the perpetrators,” according to the summary.

As for the idea that other area youngsters might be like the 12 “perpetrators,” as Alpern called them, “a full 70 percent stated they were `not at all like those guys,’ 30 percent indicated they were `a little like those guys,’ ” and no one said they were `a lot like those guys.’ “

The reason for the crime spree was identified by 72 percent of the respondents as “boredom,” followed by “desire for adventure” (67 percent) and “stupidity” (53 percent).

Other factors identified by the respondents were “anger at the community” (49 percent), “peer pressure” (39 percent), “anger at parents” (33 percent), “drugs and alcohol” (30 percent), “to enhance their images” (28 percent), and “criminal personalities” (21 percent).

Only a third or fewer of those responding said they thought the crimes were committed out of a need for money, and roughly two-thirds believed the money was used to buy drugs and alcohol.

In terms of respondents’ general attitudes about crime, more than two-thirds indicated they view stealing as “a terrible thing to do,” while more than half said they would not steal even if guaranteed that they would not be caught. The survey also revealed, however, that roughly one-fifth of the respondents believe stealing is “something everyone does with some regularity.”

Asked what they would do if a friend told them of plans to commit theft, more than half said they would try to talk that friend out of it, but only a fifth of those responding said they would report it to the authorities. Nearly half answered that they probably would not tell anyone.

To deal personally with questions generated by the crime spree, more than half the respondents said it was helpful to talk with other kids and with their parents. But only 14 percent said it was helpful to participate in school-sponsored discussions as part of the “Ex-Ed” program’s class, known as Character Counts. Concerned about kids Alpern said he and Meredith decided to conduct the survey because “we’re concerned about the kids in this community.”

Interested in figuring out how the teen-agers feel about the crime spree, the subsequent consequences and other issues, the pair concluded the best way to start was with the survey.

Next, they’ll see if students, parents or the school administration shows interest in further surveys or other measures.

“It’s out goal to find out if there is a response within the community,” Alpern said.

The main issue for Alpern and Meredith is to identify teens who are “isolated” and seem headed toward troublesome and possibly criminal behavior. Once they are identified, Alpern said, local therapists could work with the teens, with the intention of preventing antisocial or criminal behavior such as last year’s crime spree.

Alpern said he has talked with roughly a dozen local therapists and counselors who are eager to help out, and believes more could be found. He said the discussion so far has focused on the idea of a revolving schedule for the therapists, and some sort of referral process involving school personnel.

Aspen High School Principal Kendall Evans said Wednesday that he had not read the survey results or talked with any of the therapists about the idea of free counseling help.

But, he said, the concept sounds good to him on the surface.

“I’m not opposed to exploring the idea,” he said, adding that he would need to know a lot more about the details before he could give any formal approvals.

“Anytime anyone offers something for free, that gets my attention,” he quipped. “Especially around here.”

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