Boys in the suburban 'hood The pop culture bridge: Increases in youth crime linked to a rise in gang activity.

March 15, 1996

POPULAR CULTURE is so pervasive that there are fewer and fewer differences between town and country, city and suburb, when it comes to what people like to eat, drink, wear or play. It seems as if everybody wants to emulate what they see and hear on TV and radio or read about in magazines and newspapers especially teen-agers.

It comes as no surprise then to learn that some of the toughest "boys in the 'hood" live in the 'burbs. They may not have all the socio-economic problems typically linked to juvenile delinquent behavior poverty, broken families, inadequate schools but they have a lot of what it takes to get in trouble: idle time.

There has been a significant increase in juvenile violent crime in Howard County. Last year, the number of robberies committed by youths rose to 25 from 19 in 1994, and the number of aggravated assaults increased to 79 from 53. Those numbers are small compared to more urban areas, but they were high enough prompt county police into action.

Later this month, Howard Police Chief James N. Robey plans to unveil a new law enforcement initiative to deter the "copycat gangs and developing gangs" that have been implicated in a number of robberies and other crimes. Five Howard High students arrested in January were apparently in a gang that robbed other students of money, jackets and anything else they wanted. Chief Robey is right not to let the juvenile crime problem reach an unwieldy level before attacking it head-on. Likewise, county prosecutors are filing more severe charges against juvenile defendants to dispel the notion that, as children, they should have no fear of criminal punishment. Youths caught joy-riding now are more likely to be charged with car theft instead of unauthorized use of a vehicle. The message must be strong that criminal behavior brings harsh consequences.

Experts say a lack of adult supervision is one of the most important factors in juvenile crime. The county Department of Juvenile Services handled 1,939 cases of all kinds last year, up from 1,717 in 1994. In part, that's a sign of too many children with too much time on their hands. Their parents thought it was enough to live in an environment without the criminal enticements of the big city. They are learning the hard way they were wrong.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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