Arrests increase, ages decline Figures show younger teens being charged for drug offenses

November 06, 1995|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

When Westminster police raided a house at 18 Carroll St. on Oct. 5, they found three people in a back bedroom, passing a smoking marijuana pipe. One was 18 years old, one was 15. And one was 13.

Police said they found two plastic bags of marijuana and one bag of crack cocaine.

Last month, state police charged two boys, a 12-year-old with distributing Ritalin (a prescription drug for hyperactive children) at West Middle School.

While the two incidents might illustrate an increasing problem with drug use by young teens in Carroll, the consensus among local police is that the county doesn't yet have adult drug dealers using children as runners or street sellers -- a practice they say is common in almost any large city.

"There is absolutely no question that the trend in Carroll County is that we're seeing more and more disturbing behavior among younger and younger kids," said Richard J. Simmons, a pupil personnel worker in the county school system.

Under "disturbing behavior," Mr. Simmons includes use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and sexual intercourse among middle school students.

The number of students in county public schools suspended for drug offenses has climbed steadily for the past six years, from 15 in 1989-1990 to 94 in 1994-1995.

Mr. Simmons didn't have an age breakdown available, but made a count of the 94 students suspended in 1994-1995 and found that 59, or 62 percent, were high school students. Thirty were middle school students, who generally are between age 11 and 14. Five were elementary school children.

Arrests increase

The county Department of Juvenile Justice, which has jurisdiction over anyone under age 18 who is arrested for drug-related offenses, reported a sharp increase in arrests between 1992 and 1995 and a slight drop in the mean age of those arrested.

From July 1, 1991, to June 30, 1992, the Carroll County staff reported 27 young people arrested for drug possession, two for distribution. Three years later, the staff reported 111 charged with possession, 12 charged with distribution.

The mean age of those charged with possession dropped from 16.1 in 1991-1992 to 15.9 in 1994-1995; for distribution, the mean age dropped from 16.5 to 15.7.

Westminster Police Lt. Dean Brewer said he doesn't see a trend to drug use among younger children. "I don't think it's any more than we've seen in the past," he said. "We haven't really noticed an increase in juvenile drug use, and a lot of the ones we see come from broken homes or there are other problems in their lives."

He was unable to provide any statistics on drug arrests in the city. Figures compiled by Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan in 1993 showed a decrease in the percentage of juveniles arrested by city police, from 27 percent of all arrests in 1980 to 11 percent in 1992. He did not separate drug violations from arrests on other charges.

When Detective Sgt. Gary Cofflin took responsibility for the state police drug enforcement division in Carroll County in May, he assigned one member of the unit to work in schools.

"As a father and a police officer and a resident of this county, I had heard so much about drugs [in the schools], I just had to do something about it," Sergeant Cofflin said.

Now, instead of an incident report filed by a uniformed trooper, students caught with drugs in school can expect an in-depth interview with a specialist from the drug enforcement unit.

Sergeant Cofflin said the unit just recently has begun to keep statistics, but he can see an impact among students who are turning in drug dealers and users in their schools.

He said the division has made seven or eight arrests of juveniles since school started this fall, including the two students charged with selling Ritalin.

"I think that's why you're reading and seeing more about juveniles. It's because something's being done," Sergeant Cofflin said.

Town trends differ

Taneytown and Hampstead police chiefs said they see a trend toward younger children using drugs. Hampstead Police Chief Kenneth Russell said that among North Carroll High School students involved in drug violations, "It seems to me it's mostly ninth- or 10th-graders, mostly under the age of seniors."

Chief Russell said town police have relied on state police in the past to test suspected drugs. But he decided last week to order a drug test kit for town police, reflecting an increase in calls to an average of one a week.

In Sykesville and Manchester, police spokesmen said they see almost no drug users under 18. In 1994, for example, Sykesville police made 28 arrests for drug violations. Most of those charged were in their 20s, said Chief Wallace Mitchell.

Sheriff John Brown, who formed a four-member drug task force after withdrawing from the now-defunct countywide narcotics task force in July, said his officers report that "it's nothing to see them [drug users] 12 and 13 years old."

Sheriff Brown said he heard that children are being used as drug runners, but, "We haven't made any arrests on that yet."

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