Police to work together on future Oak Hill escapes

March 30, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

Eight local and federal police agencies agreed yesterday to coordinate their resources to catch escapees from the D.C.-run Oak Hill Youth Detention Center in Laurel, thus easing fears in neighboring communities.

The 18-point agreement worked out by U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer marks the first time a written notification policy has been put in effect and ends what police officials described as a haphazard way of finding escaped youths.

"It is excellent," said U.S. Park Police Sgt. Gregory Brown, who was assigned in 1992 to the district that includes the maximum-security prison at Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

"We are pretty confident that this agreement will help the community," he said. "We think it is going to work well."

Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association, one of the communities closest to the prison, called the agreement "a step in the right direction. At least it's going to make the police agencies aware that there is a problem."

Oak Hill, which houses more than 150 inmates between the ages of 14 and 21, and includes Washington's most violent youthful offenders, has been a source of concern for Anne Arundel community groups for years.

In April 1992, 10 youths, some of them serving time for rape, murder and kidnapping, escaped by using wire cutters to cut through a fence. The incident prompted Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly to order district police officers to patrol the prison grounds.

That same week, six juveniles escaped from Cedar Knoll, a minimum-security prison the District runs across the highway from Oak Hill. That prison closed last year under pressure from Mr. Hoyer.

A March 1992 escape from Cedar Knoll helped bring about yesterday's agreement. In that case, a woman called Anne Arundel County police to report an attack and a car theft, but investigating officers did not link it to an escape that had occurred earlier because they had not been notified.

County police said it took Cedar Knoll guards more than a half hour to tell U.S. Park Police, who have primary jurisdiction because the prison is on federal property. Anne Arundel Police Maj. William H. Donoho called the incident "a classic example" of how guards failed to tell police departments about escapes.

Representatives of the District of Columbia's Human Services Department, which oversees youth prisons, the U.S. Park Police, Anne Arundel County police, military police at Fort Meade, Maryland State Police, Howard County police, Laurel City police, Prince George's County police and National Security Agency police signed yesterday's agreement.

The new policy says Oak Hill's guards will immediately notify the U.S. Park Police when an escape occurs. The guards also have to call Anne Arundel County police and give them detailed information about the escapees along with photographs. Park Police will coordinate the search.

Also, the guards must notify the state prison system at the Patuxent Institution in nearby Jessup. Officials there will activate an escape siren to alert community residents, who will have a telephone number to call and get a tape-recorded message on the status of the search.

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