Violent crime by juveniles decreases 7% First drop in 9 years, says state police report to be issued today; 52% fewer murder charges; Interpretation of data disputed by Sauerbrey running mate Bennett


Maryland will report today that arrests of juveniles for violent crimes decreased in 1997 for the first time in nine years -- with a 52 percent drop in the number of young people charged with murder.

According to a news release that was obtained by The Sun and to be issued today, the Maryland State Police Uniform Crime Report will show that juvenile arrests for violent crimes dropped 7 percent from 1996 to 1997. The statistics also will show that juvenile arrests for serious property crime dropped 5 percent.

The report comes at an opportune time for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, whose record on juvenile crime issues has been derided by Republican challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

"We have turned the corner on violent juvenile crime," Glendening is quoted as saying in the release. Sauerbrey's running mate dismissed the results as "an election year jockeying of figures."

Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are scheduled to announce the crime statistics at a news conference today in Baltimore's Penn North neighborhood.

The juvenile crime report to be released today will show a drop in the number of arrests in almost every category of serious crime: Murder arrests fell from 151 in 1996 to 72 in 1997 -- the smallest number in that category since 1991.

Rape arrests decreased by 19 percent to the lowest level in 20 years.

Robbery arrests declined by 7 percent.

Aggravated assault arrests dropped by 3 percent.

Motor vehicle theft arrests fell from 3,119 to 2,427 -- a 21 percent drop.

Weapons possession charges declined by 5 percent.

According to the report, juvenile arrests declined even though the number of police officers on Maryland streets increased by 395 to 13,863 in 1997. Instead, officials said, the higher number of officers on the street was reflected in a 12 percent jump in the number of adult arrests.

According to state police, the decrease in juvenile violent crime arrests is consistent with an earlier report showing a 9 percent decrease in Maryland's violent crime rate in 1997.

Col. David B. Mitchell, the State Police superintendent, called the drop in violent crime arrests "significant."

"If you have more cops on the street and fewer juveniles arrested for violent crimes and carrying guns, it's got to mean that fewer juveniles are committing violent crimes and carrying guns," Mitchell said in the release.

But Richard D. Bennett, Sauerbrey's candidate for lieutenant governor, disputed Mitchell's interpretation of the statistics, calling him "a political appointee and longtime friend of the governor."

"The issue is not the number of arrests. The issue is the number of crimes that police believe are attributable to juveniles," said Bennett. "It may be an indication of not arresting people."

Bennett added that he was not suggesting that the numbers had been "cooked" and said there "may or may not" have been an actual decrease in juvenile crime.

Townsend, Glendening's coordinator for criminal justice issues, said the statistics are the result of tougher enforcement and stronger prevention efforts.

The overall rate of juvenile arrests dropped only 2 percent because of a crackdown on less serious offenses, according to State Police statistics. The number of juveniles charged with liquor law violations increased 18 percent, while arrests for curfew violations and loitering jumped 16 percent and vandalism arrests moved up by 4 percent.

Townsend said such arrests are part of the administration's "early intervention" strategy.

She pointed to Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice statistics showing that 60 percent more juveniles were placed under informal 90-day supervision in fiscal 1998 than in fiscal 1995 -- while 41 percent more were put on formal probation. She also noted that 4,963 juveniles were put in electronic detention in fiscal 1998 -- a category that didn't exist three years before.

Bennett said that beyond the numbers, the real issue is that the juvenile court system is in "chaos." He criticized the administration for failing to respond to the Sauerbrey campaign's proposal for a statewide juvenile court system.

Townsend dismissed the proposed court as a "new bureaucracy" that is not needed to achieve what the administration is already doing. "We need consistency in detention and consistency in sentencing, and that we are doing," she said.

Pub Date: 9/28/98

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