FLORENCE — In 2017 Pinal County Juvenile Court Services decided it was time to look at racial and ethnic disparities to learn if there were more youths from one particular race or ethnic background being arrested than others, a press release from Juvenile Court Services said.

The agency conducted an analysis by looking throughout the system from arrest to disposition.

What it discovered was that the greatest disparity was with the point of arrest for African American youths. Further analysis revealed which cities and neighborhoods had the highest arrest rates for African American youths, the press release said.

The information was shared with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, leading both agencies to realize that action needed to be taken.

Juvenile Court Services and the Sheriff’s Office hosted a collaborative meeting with community partners recently to discuss what was contributing to disproportionately high arrest rates for youths of color.

The frank discussion looked at how they could work together to create solutions.

In attendance at the meeting were more than 40 participants including representation from the courts, local behavioral health agencies, the Board of Supervisors, chambers of commerce, local businesses, homeowners associations, County Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office and local school districts.

The group reviewed crime maps and statistics, discussed identified disparities and potential contributing factors, and ultimately decided that to create sustainable change, relationships between community members of color and law enforcement needed to be strengthened.

The group created a planning committee for Community Outreach Events, a collected effort to put on community events in neighborhoods with high arrest rates for youths of color. Their goal was to provide opportunities for youths and families to build and strengthen relationships with local law enforcement.

The CORE Planning Committee, under the leadership of Juvenile Court and the Sheriff’s Office, put on four events in four different neighborhoods in 2019.

More than 1,000 community members attended community events, which included children’s activities and police officer autograph cards. More community members showed up than the planning committee could have hoped for.

“The partnerships we have established over the past three to four years, my staff have done an excellent job at recruiting and engaging our youth system partners, nonprofit, county leadership and communities,” said Juvenile Court Director Denise Smith. “When we develop these partnerships, there is an expectation that we deliver improved and innovative solutions and that, I believe, we have accomplished.”

But she said work is ongoing and there are plans to stay connected and continue to improve the juvenile justice system.

“CORE events give us the opportunity to interact with teens and children, to make that crucial positive first impression. If we can form good relationships with our young people now, we have a better chance of not seeing them pass through the juvenile court system,” said Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.

The CORE Planning Committee is identifying which neighborhoods to go to next to continue their mission to eradicate racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice and expects to see greater reductions in arrest rates for youths of color as they continue to strengthen relationships between community members and law enforcement.