County prosecutors are taking a tough stand against juveniles who rob other youths of their Starter athletic jackets.
Instead of handling the cases informally through police or the department of juvenile services, the state's attorney's office says it will take suspected delinquents to court. "We are going to be taking it seriously," said Bobbie Fine, an assistant state's attorney who handles juvenile cases. "Maybe they'll think twice now that they're not going to be getting away with it.
"We don't want this going on in Howard County."
Assaults and robberies over Starter jackets have prompted some teens in the Baltimore area to avoid wearing the jackets, especially at night. Parents won't let their children wear them to school in some areas.
The popular jackets, which cost between $69 and $300, feature the names and colorful emblems of professional and collegiate sporting teams.
In January, two youths were attacked and robbed of their Starter jackets, one in Ellicott City and the other in North Laurel. County police arrested five juveniles and an adult for the robberies, the only two to date in the county.
Ms. Fine said those cases will be prosecuted under the county's new, toughened policy. The cases have not been scheduled for trial yet.
Traditionally, such cases would be handled by the county Department of Juvenile Services or the county Police Department, Ms. Fine said. Penalties would be lenient, such as paying restitution, writing a letter of apology, or completing a community service project with police officers, Ms. Fine said.
Now, juveniles charged with stealing the jackets will have to appear before a judge to stand trial on criminal charges of theft or robbery, Ms. Fine said.
Some may face additional charges if the victim was injured and if weapons were used in the robbery.
Convicted youths face sentences ranging from probation to an 18-month stay at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, a detention facility for juveniles in Baltimore County, Ms. Fine said.
In addition, convicted youths will have a criminal record, Ms. Fine noted. The court seals records involving juveniles upon their 18th birthday. Some juveniles, particularly those nearing the age of 18, may be charged as adults, Ms. Fine added.
In other communities, violence also has accompanied Starter jacket thefts. Two teens were knocked to the ground and robbed of their jackets in Baltimore in January. And in December, three Severna Park teens were robbed of their jackets at gunpoint. On New Year's Eve, during a visit with her father, 17-year-old Karla Benner of Baltimore was fatally shot six times in Youngstown, Ohio, when three men demanded her Georgia Bulldogs jacket.
Sgt. Gary Gardner, a police spokesman, said that the county prosecutors' new policy should help deter youths from robbing others for the jackets. "It's a serious crime," Sergeant Gardner said. "We don't want to see things get like they are in urban areas. . . . At least [youths] will know there's a tough stand being taken."