Judges say delayed Civil Service move snarls juvenile booking reform, police

August 21, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer Sun Staff Writer Jay Apperson contributed to this report.

A two-year delay over a simple city real estate deal is holding up a key juvenile justice reform, prompting the judges in charge of Baltimore's juvenile court to criticize Mayor Schmoke's administration.

The city's Circuit Court asked the city in 1992 to relocate the city's Civil Service Commission from the Courthouse East building on North Calvert Street to make way for a single, city-wide booking center for juvenile suspects.

The computers needed to implement the reform have been ready since April 18, but the booking center can't open because the city hasn't picked a new home for the commission.

"This is crazy," said Judge David B. Mitchell, who is in charge of the court's juvenile division. He said the state-funded booking center will save police time equal to adding 40 to 50 new officers to the city's 3,000-strong force.

"This is fiddling while Rome burns," he said.

Circuit Court Administrative Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan said he asked the mayor two years ago to move the commission.

"The mayor promised me he would get them [Civil Service] out of here," Judge Kaplan said. "The original date was supposed to be Jan. 1. I don't care if he puts them in the street."

The booking center would let police officers bring juvenile suspects to one place, instead of booking them at one of the city's nine district police stations.

It would also let the police turn the suspects over immediately to the state Department of Juvenile Services, which would run the center.

Would free police

The system would free police from having to wait at the station for a suspect's parent or guardian, which they do now because Juvenile Services guards do not work out of the district stations.

The officers would also be able to turn over to Juvenile Services the task of driving juveniles who are not released to juvenile detention centers as far away as Prince George's County or on the Eastern Shore. There is no juvenile detention center in Baltimore.

Judge Kaplan said the booking center would get an arresting officer back on the street within an hour, compared to up to six hours when an officer has to take a suspect to Prince George's County.

"The police can leave quickly and not have to spend hours baby-sitting," said Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Services. She said booking all juvenile suspects in one place will help DJS get youths into counseling or supervision programs faster as well.

The center is expected to run until 1997 or 1998, when the booking function will be moved to a multi-purpose juvenile facility in Baltimore that would include a detention center and juvenile courtrooms.

The city and state have not settled on a location for that facility, however, so its schedule is uncertain.

The dispute over the booking center has already caused months of backstairs finger-pointing at City Hall, where top officials all support the plan. Yet the Civil Service Commission is not expected to move for several months after the city chooses a new home for the agency, to allow time for interior renovations.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the city got a late start on finding a new location for the commission because the city owns the courthouse, meaning the commission pays no rent. He said that meant the city had to find the money to lease offices, which would be at least $300,000 a year for Class B space, or find other free space.

"To move them, we would have to find rent-free space or rent at such nominal rates it would not affect other programs in our budget," the mayor said.

Judge Kaplan was notified last week that the administration has been unable to include money for rent for the Civil Service Commission in the fiscal 1995 city budget.

Mr. Schmoke said the problem became a crisis because of delay and indecision in the office of the city comptroller, which manages the city government's real estate affairs. The agency has been without a top leader since ex-Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean went on leave last year to fight her indictment for allegedly adding a ghost employee to the payroll and allegedly trying to steer a city lease to a building controlled by herself and her husband.

Mayor's political ally

City real estate director Arthur E. Held, who works in the comptroller's office, said he is just insisting that proper procedures be followed, since a political ally of the mayor, H&S Bakery Inc. president John Paterakis, owns the building where Mr. Schmoke said he favors moving the Civil Service Commission.

The mayor has also considered moving the city state's attorney's office and other agencies to the Munsey Building at 7 N. Calvert St. The building was purchased recently by a group led by Mr. Paterakis.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who is running for mayor next year, blames Mr. Schmoke. She said the city had a chance to buy the Munsey Building itself.

Mrs. Clarke said the city also could have put the Civil Service Commission in The Brokerage complex at 34 Market Place, which the city bought in 1992.

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