Juvenile crime hot spot Howard County: Communities and police must tackle teen-age violence at early stages.

December 05, 1997

NEWS OF A SHARP decrease in violent crime in Howard County would be encouraging if not accompanied by reports of worsening juvenile crime.

Increased cooperation between police and residents have helped reduce the number of violent offenses, such as robberies and aggravated assaults. One community was designated a crime "hot spot," which gave police more muscle to flex against violence and keep the problem under control. In hot spots, plainclothes officers patrol streets at night and make arrests for minor offenses, thus improving both safety and the sense of security.

Success against violent crime is countywide, according to crime statistics from the Howard police department. Robberies dropped 25 percent and aggravated assaults fell 12.7 percent in the first nine months of this year, compared to the same period in 1996. It helps when the community aids police.

The same two forces, along with schools and agencies that work with young people, also can help stem the hemorrhage of juvenile crime.

We can no longer dismiss as anomalies incidents such as the vicious beating this fall of a Long Reach High student by as many as seven of his schoolmates.

The number of aggravated assaults by juveniles in Howard more than doubled from 56 in the first nine months of 1996 to 123 for the same period this year. This increase locally comes at a time when juvenile arrests for violent crimes are dropping substantially across the country.

A juvenile prosecutor in the state's attorney's office said, "a gang mentality, a boldness and power in numbers" is responsible for the increase in assaults by teens in Howard.

Unfortunately, and for varying reasons, some children are crossing the boundary toward disaster. They are "hot spots" themselves that will explode if not defused.

It may be hard to reach them when parents of wayward youths become defensive when told about their children. Blaming the messenger only emboldens bad actors.

Residents must remain resolute. Neighborhoods suffer when their good kids go bad. That is why every resident has an interest in making sure children are held accountable for minor acts of wrongdoing before they stray into the penal system.

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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