hayward-benson-jr_web.jpgLAUDERHILL — City commissioners have unanimously approved an ordinance that offers a pre-trial diversion program to adult offenders who have committed certain misdemeanor offenses.

The proposed program will be geared toward first-time, non-violent offenders who have committed crimes such as shoplifting, writing graffiti, possessing marijuana and consumption of alcohol.

Commissioner Hayward J. Benson Jr. said he sponsored the bill after learning of the high school graduation rates of children from the Schott report on public education and black males.

Benson noted that Lauderhill’s program has not yet been created.  A workshop will be organized at which the police, city employees and attorneys will work together to establish it.  A resolution detailing how the program will be implemented will then be presented to the city commission.

In Broward County, 52 percent of black males graduated in 2009-2010, according to the report.  The figure is higher than the state’s 47 percent and equal to the nation’s figure of 52 percent of black males who graduated that year.

It is a 13 percent increase from 2007-2008 when 39 percent of black males graduated in Broward County. "When they make a mistake and get a non-violent crime placed on their record, it compounds the problem of getting jobs to support themselves and their families,” Benson said.  “My intention is to minimize the impact that would have on impeding their progress towards their future, especially when it comes to the job market.

Lauderhill residents spoke out in support of the ordinance during the city commission meeting Monday. “It is an awesome opportunity to give residents a second chance,” said resident May Smith.

Resident Tony Williams also hailed the merits of the program.  “We want to give them the opportunity to function without a strain,” said Williams, who is president of the Saint George Homeowner Association.

Other cities such as Hallandale Beach, Davie and Fort Lauderdale already have similar programs.  Coral Springs is discussing a program, as well.

In Hallandale Beach’s program, the offender must pay the city $500 to participate in the program, plus the fee required by the contractor administering the program.

At the meeting, Commissioner Howard Berger expressed concern that the initiative allowed for preferential treatment for offenders who could afford the fees. Assistant City Attorney Angel Petti Rosenberg pointed out that the fees were cheaper than the court costs the offender would be responsible for paying.  It would also be less cost to the city because the attorney would not have to go to court, Rosenberg said.

Berger was also concerned about how Lauderhill can be sure a person who is arrested is actually a first-time offender and did not commit a crime in another city with the same program and got the criminal record cleared.

“We need an universal database for cities with the program,” Berger said.  “A concerned employer should know if the person has a propensity to steal or deal drugs.”