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Community members attend a meeting on juvenile justice.
Community members attend a meeting on juvenile justice. (Jessica Anderson)

Peggy Scarlett said kids as young as 10 and 11 years old have lit trash cans on fire near her home in Rosemont in Southwest Baltimore. Her neighbors have had car windows smashed out, while another resident said kids have recently destroyed a lamp post.

“It’s terrible. These children are terrorizing the neighborhood and then they cuss at you,” she said.

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Scarlett was among a crowd who attended a meeting hosted by the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office on the juvenile justice system Wednesday night at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore. The event is part of the “Court in the Community Program” that aims to connect residents with the city State’s Attorney Office through meetings on different topics.

Scarlett said she came to the meeting hoping to get information about the the juvenile system since she said her neighborhood has seen an increase in juvenile crime. She said groups of kids will stay out on the street until late at night. She said she is afraid to approach the children, fearing her home or car will be vandalized.

Scarlett asked about information on the city’s curfew, which was not immediately answered because of the format of the event. Others asked about Commissioner Kevin Davis’ recent comments in which he blamed the juvenile crime problem on repeat offenders who are quickly released from the juvenile system, which doesn’t offer more serious punishments.

Gavin Patashnick, head of the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office’s Juvenile Unit, said there is a process in place to evaluate whether juveniles should be released or detained. “It’s a myth.. I hear this a lot of a revolving door,” he told the crowd. Patashnick said that juveniles who are arrested undergo an intake process at the Baltimore Juvenile Justice Center where they are given a risk assessment that determines whether they are detained or not. He said the forms of detention also vary, with some kids being held in a facility to being placed on GPS monitoring, to other options.

He gave a presentation and then he and other officials fielded some questions. Also at the meeting was Northwestern District Captain Jason Yerg; Baltimore City Schools Police Chief Akil Hamm; Dwaine Johnson from the Department of Juvenile Services and Mujahid Muhammad from KEYS Development, an organization that offers youth mental health services.

Johnson said the juvenile justice system is “very complex,” noting that its goal is rehabilitation, and that each child comes to the agency with needs.

Scarlett said she was frustrated by the structure of the meeting. Scarlett who asked for information about the city’s youth curfew said it wasn’t answered before she left. Others left the meeting early, some of who said they felt it didn’t comfort them.

Robert Hunt, president of the Rosemont Neighborhood Improvement Association, said he didn’t find the meeting helpful. “You have people who feel ignored.”

Carolyn Smith, a retired federal employee who lives in the Northwest neighborhood of Glen, said she felt there “is a disconnect” between city agencies that deal with youth.

“It just doesn’t look like their is a working plan to quell the violence that is occurring,” Smith said.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis announces 'decoy unit' to combat juvenile crime.

But during his presentation, Patashnick described some of his agency’s limitations. He said that in juvenile court, cases must be tried within 60 days that charges are filed, which can be difficult in certain cases. Sometimes, he said victims don’t feel juvenile court is taken as seriously, and choose not to come to court, which can make it difficult to prosecute a case.

“Juvenile court is court. It’s not kangaroo court,” he said.

The meeting comes after a number of high-profile assaults involving teens have been profiled, including a woman who was struck with wooden boards in South Baltimore, teen boys who were assaulted and robbed while trick-or-treating in Homeland, and a New Jersey family who was assaulted visiting in the Inner Harbor last month.

More than 200 Riverside and Federal Hill residents attended a monthly public safety walk last week, expressing concern about the resident incidents. At that event, the police commissioner announced more patrols in the area and a new task force of young officers to combat juvenile crime. But despite arrests of a number of teens, Davis has expressed frustration at what he calls lack of accountability in the juvenile system. He said many juveniles charged in violent crimes will be quickly released and become re-offenders. Davis said legislative reforms are needed.

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Police say there is no way to know whether juveniles are committing more crimes. Provisional data from the state Department of Juvenile Services show juvenile arrests for felony assault in Baltimore are up 20 percent over last year, arrests for robbery are up 9.2 percent, and arrests for carjacking are up 5 percent. But overall juvenile arrests in the city are down 11 percent.

Last week, Mayor Catherine Pugh said crime in the city was “out of control,” and ordered 30 agency heads to meet every morning at police headquarters to help find additional ways—not just through policing—to curb crime.

Overall crime has risen across the city with more than 300 homicides reported for the third straight year. Common assaults are up 20 percent, aggravated assaults are up 15 percent and robberies are up 13 percent.

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