Police Assail Notification Lapse

Cedar Knoll Again Accused Of Delay In Relaying Escape Information

April 01, 1992|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff writer

County police are again complaining that Washington youth services officials failed to notify them promptly of the Monday night escape ofsix teen-agers from the Cedar Knoll youth detention center near Laurel.

As of last night, the youths, who were serving time on narcotics and car theft charges, were still at large. Since January 1990, 43youths have escaped from the facility, which is owned and operated by Washington's Department of Human Services, 49 others have fled while at outside jobs or school assignments, and 85 more failed to returnfrom unsupervised home visits or special leave, officials said.

Administrators of the 22-acre facility have come under increasingcriticism from county and state police for failing to notify local police agencies promptly after escapes.

Community leaders in Maryland City and Jessup, the neighborhoods closest to the detention center, say they are afraid their community will be victimized by the youthful offenders, and they complain that they are never told of escapes.

County police were not informed of the Monday night escapes for at least an hour, said county police Maj. William Donoho.

Delays incommunication have been a point of contention between the four police agencies in the area, prompting meetings between police officials as recently as last month.

"This is what we have been trying to clear up," Donoho said. "At the last meeting, we were told we would be notified within 15 or 20 minutes of the escape.

Instead, county police first learned of the Monday escape at 7:40 p.m. when a motorist called 911 to report that two boys were seen running across the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Suspecting that there had been an escape, county police called Cedar Knoll.

Donoho said officials there were not sure yet if there had been an escape, but called them back an hour later and confirmed it.

Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association, said he first heard of the escapes when he wastold yesterday by a reporter.

"Everything is supposed to change at Cedar Knoll, but it never does," he said.

Larry Brown, spokesmanfor the D.C. Department of Human Services, said the district government is "trying to be a good neighbor," and called the charges againstthe boys "minor infractions."

"We are making changes there to improve the situation and spark a dialogue between people in the community," Brown said. The changes, he said, include hiring more counselorsand providing improved training for staff members.

He said the youths escaped Monday evening by breaking a lock on the door of a cottage and walking out. Officials at Cedar Knoll learned of the escape during a routine head count and notified Washington police, Brown said.

"We always notify Metropolitan Police and give them the home addresses of the boys because they return here," he said.

Brown said he was not aware of any breakdown of communications with other police agencies.

Rep. Tom McMillen has sent a letter to Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly threatening to sponsor legislation that would close down the facility, which currently houses 176 youths between 14 and20 years old.

"Unfortunately, the district has not adequately reponded to its facilities, despite a clear need for them to do so," the4th District Democrat wrote.

Although Cedar Knoll was ordered closed by a federal judge in 1987, the order was never enforced.

"Theway it was explained to me," said Brad Fitch, a McMillen spokesman, "Was that because of the explosion of cases from the district, there is no more room to put any of these people."

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