Juvenile crime in Baltimore 'out of control;' leaders want action

As Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis met with residents in South Baltimore this week, he told a story.

A police officer spotted a 15-year-old boy in the Inner Harbor last Friday appearing to load a gun, Davis said. The officer arrested the youth. The gun turned out to be a replica, and a court released the boy. Police say he was likely back home within hours.

Police now believe the same youth robbed a woman Sunday night along the promenade near the Ritz-Carlton Residences.

Davis said the story is common: Officers arrest juveniles for assault, robbery or carrying a gun, only to see a court release them to commit more crimes.

Davis, taking a community walk through a South Baltimore neighborhood, heard from residents alarmed by a spate of attacks believed to have been committed by juveniles.

“The situation with these juveniles is out of control,” City Councilman Eric T. Costello said. “There needs to be consequences. People are upset, frustrated.”

Police say there is no way to know whether juveniles are committing more crimes. Provisional data from the state Department of Juvenile Services show juvenile arrests for felony assault in Baltimore are up 20 percent over last year, arrests for robbery are up 9.2 percent, and arrests for carjacking are up 5 percent. But overall juvenile arrests in the city are down 11 percent.

Police say youths have targeted and assaulted a woman on Halloween night.

The woman was among about 200 residents who attended the community walk. Her eyes were blackened and she wore thick bandages on her knees.

“I think it’s good people want to make a change,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “I don’t know if it will happen.”

Her boyfriend, Jeff Brown, said the attack and the attention it has received has “really put a lot of energy into stopping this.”

Police on Monday announced the arrest of a15-year-old boy who they believe was involved in four incidents on Halloween. Police on Sunday arrested two girls, aged16 and 17, in a robbery on Hanover Street the night before, and detectives are investigating whether they were responsible for other crimes in the area.

Davis said one group of 10 juveniles has piled up more than 60 arrests.

“Today’s juveniles are involved in a lot more serious crime,” he said. “The consequences just aren’t there for them to face.”

Davis has announced more patrols and a new task force of young officers to infiltrate the youthful crews. But he said legislative reforms are needed to deter young repeat offenders.

Under state law, a juvenile aged 16 or older who is charged with robbery or illegal possession of a handgun starts in adult court. But a judge can move the case to juvenile court, where the penalties aren’t as harsh.

Davis said 90 percent of such cases are sent to juvenile court.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Juvenile Services said the agency is working with law enforcement to hold youth accountable and keep communities safe.

“While it is the courts who decide the punishment for youth who are found delinquent, we believe that all options should be on the table to address public safety issues in the city,” spokeswoman Audra Harrison said.

Police have reported attacks in several city neighborhoods.

Officers have arrested at least three juveniles they believe were part of a large group that robbed another group of youth downtown on Halloween.

Police say a group of youths assaulted two other youths in Homeland and took their candy. Police said the suspects used what appeared to be a handgun to possibly pistol-whip a bystander who tried to intervene. No arrests have been made in the case.

A Towson man said his 13-year-old son was one of the victims. He said his son was trick-or-treating with several classmates from school when he was threatened with a gun and punched and kicked in the face, body and back.

His son was taken by ambulance to Johns Hopkins Children's Trauma Center, where he was treated and released.

The father, who teaches at Loyola University Maryland, said the incident makes him question the city’s future.

“This city is a mess,” he said. “As a college professor, how am I supposed to sell our city to prospective students?”

City leaders have taken notice.

“It is the major issue of the day,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said.

Arrests are made, but the problems continue, Clarke said, “so we are searching here for ways to work with young people, but also to stop the assaults that have too often occurred.”

Overall violent crime in Baltimore has spiked since the riots of 2015. The city last week reached 300 homicides for the third straight year. Common assaults are up 20 percent, aggravated assaults are up 15 percent and robberies are up 13 percent.

Police say a family visiting Baltimore in October for a birthday party was assaulted by several juveniles near the Inner Harbor amphitheater.

The family told police and reporters that several juveniles jumped onto a man and kicked and punched him.

“They swarmed us,” a woman told WJZ-TV. “They hit my husband in the head. They knocked him out … and then it was just complete bedlam.”

A spokesman for the Downtown Partnership said the organization has heard some concerns from businesses, but he believes the assaults are only a “mini trend.”

Every couple of years, spokesman Michael Evitts said, a cluster of incidents will attract attention. Then police make arrests, he said, and the incidents stop.

“We don’t see this as a long-term situation,” Evitts said. “We’ve already seen some arrests.”

The Downtown Partnership has hired off-duty officers to patrol some neighborhoods. In the long term, Evitts said, the organization is trying other initiatives to bring city youth to downtown to events at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Theater and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.

“We need to engage city youth more, get them involved in positive ways,” he said.

Davis said violent incidents against innocent victims must be taken seriously.

"Some criminals decided to prey on this community,” he said. “The community didn't do it to themselves. … These few bad guys did it, and we need to continue to hold them accountable.”

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

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