By Yvonne Wenger and Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun
7:43 PM EST, February 10, 2014
Baltimore will open several year-round, 24-hour centers to enforce the city's curfew for children and teens and connect troubled youths to services under a plan Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake unveiled Monday in her State of the City address.
Youth Connection Centers, modeled after similar programs in Washington and Miami, will replace the city's curfew center in the Barclay neighborhood that operates from June to August.
The first center is expected to open in the northwest or southeast section of the city by this summer, the mayor said. City officials could not provide an estimated cost, but said it would be funded both with general fund dollars and grants.
"We know when our young people are on the streets at night that they are more likely to either become victims of violent crime or the perpetrators of it," Rawlings-Blake said in her 36-minute speech to an audience that included Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and schools interim CEO Tisha Edwards.
The mayor spent nearly half her address discussing her administration's strategy for combating violence, including increasing the number of geographic zones patrolled by officers from four to 17 and adding a staff commander for the CitiWatch surveillance program to better respond to crime in real time.
Targeting violent repeat offenders will remain a priority, she said, adding that more than 100 such offenders were investigated and arrested in September and October alone.
She also said she will continue a micro-loan program that provides $30,000 loans to small businesses and touted a $900,000 grant the city secured to open a new minority business development center.
Council members had mixed reactions to her remarks.
Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents Southeast Baltimore, said the mayor's plan for taking on violence fell far short.
"I didn't hear anything new," Kraft said. "I was hoping the mayor would have something stronger and more definite. I'm still not clear what the plan is. … It can't be that we put some people here and they push the crime somewhere else. If you put police in Canton, it pushes crime to Highlandtown. If you put police in Highlandtown, it goes to Patterson Park."
But Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said the mayor's crime-fighting initiatives are sound. The proposed Youth Connection Centers will be a safe place for kids to keep them off the street, he said.
"Our focus should be on our youth to enrich their lives and show them there is a better way," Young said. "It's going to be very positive for our youth. We also need to look at how we can keep them from violating curfew by having other types of programs to keep them engaged."
Staff from local agencies, such as the Department of Social Services and the Family League along with other community-based partners will be stationed at the centers to connect the kids to services intended to promote positive development and provide intervention as needed.
During summer months since the curfew center was established in 2008, children younger than 17 caught on the street after 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends have been transported to the center, where they were photographed, interviewed and checked into a computer database for possible warrants or probation violations.
The children's parents were called and fined up to $300.
After the first Youth Connection Center is opened this summer, the city will look to bring on additional centers or a centralized hub, according to mayoral spokeswoman Caron A. Brace. The goal is to redirect hundreds of youth from the juvenile justice system each year, she said.
Last summer, 165 children and teens were transported to the curfew center.
"When kids are out after curfew, they are screaming that they need assistance, they need support, they need engagement in their families so they can get on the right path," the mayor said later Monday.
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