Baltimore police soon will assign 24 officers to Cherry Hill and Park Heights in a $1 million, federally funded project aimed at reducing juvenile gun crime.
In those neighborhoods, new teams of police officers will focus on youth matters, including school crime, suspected gangs, vandalism and after-school idleness, said the project's coordinator, police Maj. John F. Meeks.
Baltimore is one of 10 cities awarded the funds last month to spark innovations in policing, specifically "to combat the epidemic" of children who are using guns, said Burt Glass, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice's office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Nationally, juvenile arrests for violent offenses rose by nearly 68 percent between 1984 and 1993, the last year for which statistics are available.
In Baltimore, from 1990 to 1994, juvenile arrests for violent crimes increased by 12.4 percent, according to police records.
"The federal government doesn't have all the answers to this, but we can foster new kinds of thinking at the local level," Mr. Glass said. The progress of each city's program will be monitored so the most successful can be copied across the country, he said.
Here, the Police Department chose to spend the one-year grant in tightly focused efforts in two neighborhoods that already had in place the networks of community groups needed to support them, Major Meeks said.
It wasn't a matter of singling out a neighborhood for its juvenile crime, he added.
"The problem is citywide and too big" to attack on a broader scale with a grant this size, he said. "We think it would be more successful if we focused on one or two neighborhoods."
Officers will be assigned to Pimlico Middle School and to Northwestern High School, where they will teach anti-gun classes and participate in school and community safety programs. In addition, Park Heights and Cherry Hill each will get two officers assigned to reduce truancy and curfew violations, he said.
In each community, the Police Department also will open a computer-equipped recreation center. On school days from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., an officer will be posted in each center, Major Meeks said.
"This will afford the kids a role model, a mentor, some help with homework, as well as security they would want -- a safe place to be and an alternative to being on the street on your own if your parents are working late," he said.
Only one of the city's existing recreation centers has a regularly assigned police officer, but all of the city's pools have officers, a police spokesman said yesterday. Assigning an officer to the two new centers may improve relations between youth and police in those communities, Mr. Meeks said.