Hampden at wit's end over teen troublemakers

Youths and teenagers as young as 12 are causing consternation in Hampden — throwing rocks at cars, vandalizing property, cursing loudly, skipping school, popping car tires with pocket knives and smoking marijuana behind a public school, according to residents, merchants, police and city officials.

More than 30 residents and business owners filled a small meeting room at Breathe Books on The Avenue on Monday, Oct. 3 to discuss the problem and what can be done about it.

Those attending the meeting included Mary Pat Clarke, a Baltimore City councilwoman who represents the area; Doug Gibson, a Northern District police officer and community liaison; and Rob Durocher, managing attorney for the city's Property-Based Crime Solutions program.

Most residents requested anonymity for fear of retaliation by the teens, many of them juveniles. Residents also asked that the streets where the teens live not to be named.

A few merchants did agree to talk for the record. Elissa Strati, owner of Avenue Antiques, said her store windows have twice been broken by young vandals, and that she has the evidence on videotape.

Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, said he has seen one preteen walking on The Avenue carrying a BB gun that looks like a real gun. Ray said he is worried that the youth could be shot by police because they might think the youth is armed with a real gun.

Some residents said they have seen as many as 35 youths and teens smoking marijuana behind Hampden Elementary/Middle School, 3608 Chestnut Ave.

Residents said in some cases, the youths' parents or guardians seem overwhelmed and are letting them "run wild."

"There has to be a police response," Clarke said at the meeting.

Several residents called for police patrols at the school.

"We can do that," Gibson said. He also said that new Northern District commander Maj. Sabrina Tapp-Harper is focusing on bicycle patrols as part of a community policing push. Gibson said he has begun rising a bike on patrol.

Gibson also said he plans to discuss with Durocher this week options for combating the wave of teen troublemaking, including using city drug and nuisance laws as "leverage" against owners or tenants of the residences where the offending teens live.

But Gibson urged people to call 911 or the police department's drug hotline, 410-666-DRUG every time they see suspicious activity, and to give specific addresses.

He and other officials at the meeting also suggested writing letters to the city departments of Juvenile Services and Child Protective Services.

Gibson warned that the Northern District's focus is still on violent crimes, but said that shouldn't stop residents from calling police.

"You've gotta keep calling on these kids," he said.

Clarke urged residents to file police reports.

"Nothing is going to happen without that police report," she said.

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