As Oneontans turned over their calendars to January 1919, they soon learned that the city had a problem of bad behavior amongst some of their youngest citizens. News was abundant and reported in The Oneonta Star, and by February a crusade was called for to turn the tide on juvenile delinquency.
“There appears to have developed, especially of late, much petty thieving on the part of very young boys of the city, and for weeks the police have been puzzled by many thefts from milk bottles, not a few citizens, until they learned by experience that it was unsafe, being accustomed to leave change and not infrequently a bill for milk or tickets in the bottles placed upon the porches,” it was reported on Friday, Jan. 10. “These offences (sic) have been committed for the most part in the center of the residential section, although numerous complaints have come from River street.”
This was a time when milk was delivered door to door each day very early in the morning, so customers were used to leaving money for deliverymen to pick up from area dairies.
A trio of young boys, ages 10 to 12, were before Judge Shove the day before and when questioned admitted their guilt to emptying cash from the milk bottles and confessed to numerous offenses. The 12-year-old was sent to the State Agricultural and Industrial School near Rochester. The institution wouldn’t accept any boys under 12. Those under 12 were described as “bright, but seemingly quite apt at wrongdoing.” The youths were using the cash to go to the movies.
“Judge Shove is finding it no easy task to make a just decision relative to them,” the report continued.
Another 12-year-old boy broke into a Walnut Street home on Jan. 21, took some money and an air gun from the owners. When reported, by the end of the day an Oneonta police officer had taken the boy into custody and arraigned him before Judge Shove.