Teens' alcohol arrests seem to surge Officials say enforcement has increased in Howard

July 28, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

While juvenile authorities worry that more girls are getting more involved in crime and disruptive behavior, Howard County's typical juvenile offenders mirror those in other suburban counties: white males between the ages of 14 and 17, charged with assault or theft.

But in Howard, there's a twist: More young offenders are likely to have been cited for alcohol and tobacco violations than in other suburban counties, according to state juvenile justice statistics.

In Howard, such cases made up 24 percent of all the cases referred to the county's juvenile justice program from July 1994 to June 1995.

That's compared with less than 2 percent, or 174 alcohol and tobacco citations, in Baltimore County over that same period.

Are Howard County teens smoking and drinking that much more than their peers? Not necessarily. Those numbers are high in part because of tough enforcement, authorities say.

Although there is an increase in drinking, "the increase in arrests can also be attributed to the fact that we have a special unit targeting underage drinking," said Howard County police spokesman Sgt. Steve Keller.

In summer 1995, local police set up an alcohol enforcement unit staffed with two officers who work nights. Arrests appear to have skyrocketed.

From June 1995 to June 1996, 364 juveniles received citations. In the same period a year before, 171 alcohol cases went to juvenile justice authorities.

"It depends what you focus your resources on," said Assistant State's Attorney William Tucker, head of the juvenile division. "When they focused on alcohol, we got hoards."

Tucker said Howard and Harford counties are the most aggressive enforcers of the 1994 state law calling for the arrest of anyone under 18 in possession of tobacco or rolling papers. Initially, Howard schools reported so many students for tobacco violations that it overwhelmed the juvenile justice system, officials said.

The schools have since changed their policies, and now teen-agers are referred to juvenile justice after their third citation.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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