More and more North County teens are making mace the weapon of choice for protection or settling scores, county police say.
Detective Tim Walker says kids are "going crazy" with Mace, or tear gas, because it is inexpensive and readily available.
Incidents involving Mace are becoming more frequent on the streets, and in a few instances, it has been found inside county schools.
Although it is illegal to carry Mace or tear gas openly with "intent to injure" someone, it is not illegal to carry it concealed, Walkersaid. "I can't find a law that that says it's illegal to sell it to them (juveniles)."
It costs about $9 a can and is available in sporting goods stores, gun shops and army surplus outlets. While Mace ispopular in North County, it does not seem to be in other areas of the county.
On Oct. 24, about 20 students and teachers at Brooklyn Park Junior High School began complaining of eye and skin irritations.Officials called in an environmental cleanup company at a cost of $1,800 to determine if a toxic substance was the culprit. Later, they learned that two 15-year-old students from North County High School had set off "Sabre" tear gas in the boys bathroom.
The boys confessed and were charged with trespassing on school grounds, reckless endangerment and disrupting school. The boy who actually had the Mace was charged with assault. They told police that many youngsters in the Brooklyn Park area carry Mace or tear gas for protection.
On Nov. 18, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old student at Center for Applied Technology North were suspended for five days after they set off tear gas in the hallway of the school. They were both charged with openly carrying a chemical weapon and reckless endangerment, police said.
Administrators at Arundel Senior High School recently confiscated a can of Mace from a student.
"She worked afternoons and kept it with her for her protection," said Louis Thomas, assistant principal. He said he took the can and returned it to the girl at the end of the day.
School officials view Mace as any other weapon, and possession of it in school is grounds for as much as a five-day suspension, said Brooklyn Park Junior High School Principal Joel Drapalski.
"There isno reason for a youngster to carry it on school property," he said. "It's a danger to themselves and others."
Walker said police reports indicate that since spring, there's been an increase in the numberof incidents involving teens outside school using Mace. He said it appears that groups of teen-agers are prowling the Brooklyn Park area,spraying Mace in people's faces for no apparent reason.
* On Sept. 30, a 17-year-old Glen Burnie boy told police that he got into an argument with several other boys at the Sears in Glen Burnie, and theysprayed Mace in his face.
* On Aug. 2, a 12-year-old boy reportedto police another 12-year-old boy sprayed Mace in his face at the Glen Golf and Games on Crain Highway.
* On July 4, a 17-year-old Brooklyn boy got into an argument with an 18-year-old and he sprayed tear gas in the 18-year-old's face. The 17-year-old was charged with assault and battery.
* On July 23, a 37-year-old man was at a gas station on Camp
Meade Road when several teen-agers called for him to come over to his car. When he did, they sprayed Mace in his face, police said.
A week earlier, a 20-year-old man was walking along Route 648 near Edgewood Road when two boys in their late teens who were also walking along the road stopped him and asked directions before spraying Mace in his face.
Because of its availability, Walker is hoping the County Council will introduce legislation that would make itillegal to sell Mace or tear gas to anyone younger than 18.
"It seems like a lot of kids are carrying it around these days," he said. "Some people argue that it is used for protection. But the problem isit can be as offensive as it is defensive."