The Young and the Lawless

March 01, 1995

Increasing contacts between Howard County teen-agers and local law enforcement officials appear to be heightening old animosities. It is unfortunate to note that in the war on crime, young people are often seen as the enemy of a law-abiding public. Equally troubling is that many youths view the police in the same vein.

As reported recently in The Sun, crime among juveniles in Howard County increased by 23 percent last year, with larceny and burglary growing by almost half. The report suggests that greater police enforcement has only hardened attitudes of those youths who somehow remain oblivious to the greater consequences of their actions. While this apparent antagonism is cause for concern, it is not reason for police to retreat from the progress they have made in curbing juvenile offenders.

We acknowledge that in their interaction with the public, law enforcement officials must be held to a high standard given their enormous powers. Abuse can never be tolerated.

By the same token, personal responsibility and respect for authority must be emphasized within all institutions that affect children's lives. It is shocking to hear teen-agers insist they are harassed by police even while they acknowledge they were in the midst of breaking the law.

Meanwhile, parental inattentiveness or dereliction regarding their children's actions remains one of our most-discussed, least easily corrected ills. A sick bumper sticker we saw brazenly displayed on a middle-aged motorist's vehicle the other day summed up this attitude: "My kid beat up your honor student."

While it is generally assumed that authorities have been too lenient with budding criminals in the recent past, there can be little doubt what the public wants now. Howard voters were clear in electing Marna McLendon as state's attorney last fall that they wanted a system that is tough with law-breakers, regardless of their age. Ms. McLendon has responded by meeting with the heads of agencies that work with youth to develop programs that will set errant young people straight.

These measures should seek to improve relations between authorities and young people. But developing friendlier ties between the two groups is only a means to an end: Law and order is paramount.

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