About 50 youngsters poured into Druid Hill Park and stole four dozen bicycles Monday evening that city workers had put out for a popular bike-sharing program, authorities said.
City officials said Friday that the Ride Around the Reservoir program is suspended indefinitely while they hope for the return of the bikes, which the Recreation and Parks Department will accept with no questions asked.
Chris Merriam, director of Bikemore, a group that works to promote bicycling in Baltimore, said the thefts were "incredibly shocking" and a big setback for the program.
"It's a kids-out-of-control issue," Merriam said. "It's a really brazen crime and really messed up on so many levels."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she was outraged by the incident, and pledged to find a way to continue the Ride Around program and other recreational opportunities. The theft of the bikes shows a critical need for programs to engage young people before they become involved in criminal activity, she said.
"All across Baltimore we have communities coming together because they want better. We've worked very hard to provide recreational resources, and this unfortunate crime isn't going to detour my resolve to keep pressing forward," she said.
Detective Sgt. Jarron L. Jackson, a police spokesman, said a dozen bikes have been recovered. The stolen bicycles include large blue beach cruisers and some children's bikes. All are marked with numbers on black and white stickers.
Jackson said anyone who sees one of the bikes should contact police. They also can be dropped off at any city recreation center or at Recreation and Parks headquarters at 2600 Madison Ave.
"They just want the bikes back," Jackson said. "They are a very valuable resource to the city as a whole, and we definitely want that program to continue."
Under the Ride Around program, which began in 2006 and expanded from one day a week to four, people can borrow bikes and helmets and ride through Druid Hill Park. Similar programs operate in Carroll Park and at Lake Montebello, and at City Hall for employees during lunchtime. The bikes are also used in the city's Camp Baltimore summer camp.
All of those programs, which serve about 3,000 people each summer, will be affected by the loss, said Recreation and Parks spokeswoman Gwendolyn Chambers.
Chambers said replacing the bikes could cost thousands of dollars. Some residents have expressed interest in donating money to replace them, and Chambers said donations can be made at baltimorecityfoundation.org under youth programs.
The incident is the second this week in which a large group of teens caused a problem, according to police. On Sunday, a fight broke out at Howard and West Pratt streets where young people were gathered, police said. Police are investigating reports that the teens assaulted people with bricks and sticks, and might have stolen a phone. Two juveniles were arrested.
In Monday's incident, police said, a group of youths, mostly boys, flooded the area where city workers had set up the bicycles about 5:30 p.m. Some of the youths might have been kicked out of the park pool earlier, according to city officials.
"It was a large group of kids who took a small group of employees by surprise," Jackson said.
One of the youths kicked a worker, though the injury wasn't serious, officials said. They then fled on the bikes.
"We don't want our staff in harm's way, so we don't engage in fights with them," Chambers said.
Jackson said the police response to incidents involving large groups of youth depends on the situation.
"Our primary focus is on safety — the safety of citizens and the juveniles," Jackson said. "We evaluate every situation and make our deployment accordingly."
He said the groups Sunday and Monday appear to be made up of different people, and that the age of youths involved in such incidents tends to be 12 to 17.
"There isn't one band of roving juveniles popping up throughout the city and causing havoc," Jackson said.
He said the Police Department works to build relationships with young people through mentoring programs and camps.
Police also are working with children and teens through the Inner Harbor Project, a youth-led organization that works to create a dialogue between young people and businesses and police to make the harbor a safe and inclusive place while working to limit youth-on-youth violence, Jackson said.
City officials said they will sit down soon to discuss how to continue the Ride Around program in a way that is safe for staff and bikers.
Merriam said Ride Around should be continued because it gives people an opportunity to ride for fun and exercise, even if they don't own a bike.
"I am hoping that people see these bikes around the city, and say, 'That's a program we really like,' and decide that's worth calling the police for," he said.
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