Baltimore police launch plainclothes 'decoy unit' in response to recent robberies and assaults by youths

The Baltimore police department has created a plainclothes unit of young officers and increased uniformed patrols in response to recent crimes by juveniles in South Baltimore.

Commissioner Kevin Davis announced the plainclothes decoy unit Monday night during a monthly public safety walk held by the Riverside Neighborhood Association, which drew more than 200 residents to Riverside Park after several recent robberies and assaults involving juveniles were reported in the area.

The new unit will be made up of young, trained police officers deployed to specific areas where there's violent, repeat juvenile offenders, Davis said. The department has also doubled the number of officers assigned full time to South Baltimore neighborhoods and increased holiday deployments with administrative sworn officers in neighborhoods near the Inner Harbor, he said. The recent police academy class is also walking in the area.

"For the rest of the year, you will see an enhanced police presence, and that is not going to go away,” Davis said as the crowd applauded.

Councilman Eric T. Costello, who represents the neighborhood, said the recent crimes, which include juveniles assaulting victims with wooden boards and bats are “completely unacceptable.”

One woman who was attacked by several juveniles with wooden boards on Halloween night attended the walk. She still had black eyes and large bandages over her knees.

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

Her boyfriend, Jeff Brown, who lives in the neighborhood, said her attack and the attention given to her case “really put a lot of energy into stopping this.”

Police said a 15-year-old has been charged in four of seven incidents on Halloween.

Davis said much of the recent juvenile crime in the area is caused by several known offenders.

"We have a number of juveniles who have introduced themselves to this community,” Davis said. “They are small in numbers but they have committed the same crime again, again and again. We've arrested them again, again and again. We just have to hold onto them, detain them until they change their behavior."

Davis said he had the records of 10 juveniles who were recently arrested pulled and found that collectively, the groups has been previously charged with more than 60 offenses.

While the department has beefed up patrols in the area, Davis said there needs to be more accountability by the courts, at home and in school. He said many juvenile offenders also likely come from troubled backgrounds.

One resident asked what’s causing the crime trend.

"They probably think that nobody gives a damn about them,” Davis responded. But also, he said “because they think they can get away with it."

Lisa Urso and her husband Matthew have lived in the neighbohood for eight years and have noticed an increase in crime. The couple said they regularly attend crime walks, but Monday was by far the largest. They haven’t been victimized but said they have known people in the community who have.

Matthew Urso said he doesn’t want the recent incidents to deter people from moving to the neighborhood where he and his wife have decided to make their home and raise their two daughters. He said the health of the neighborhood and others are important to the future of the city, and “you can’t let a neighborhood with a tax base fall apart.”

Resident James Gray, a civil engineer, said until recently he never thought twice about visitors walking to his house from a parking space.

“Now it’s like, don’t walk alone at night at all,” he said. He hopes the momentum from Monday night will continue.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

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