Juvenile justice program has test case Resolution: An unusual experiment will allow Columbia residents to deal with crimes by bringing youthful offenders and victims together in a community conference.

December 20, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

It was, in short, an execution: a pet pigeon left for dead on the floor of its homemade coop, shot once in the head with a BB gun.

That was the case on the docket last week at Howard County's first "community conference," an unorthodox juvenile justice program being tested in Columbia that brings together offenders and victims, parents and police, and representatives from the community at large.

Sitting in a circle in the faculty dining room at Long Reach High School on Thursday afternoon were the two boys who admitted firing the fatal shot and the bird's 44-year-old owner.

"They didn't put the pigeons and me together, and feeding them every day and watching the babies grow up and everything," said Rick Baumann of Sweetwind Place in Long Reach, who found the dead bird last month when he entered the coop at feeding time. "When they saw me and we all sat there and saw one another, it put things in perspective, I think."

An official from the state Department of Juvenile Justice, which is funding the pilot program with a $40,000 grant, moderated the 90-minute conference. In attendance were the parents of both offenders, the county police officer assigned to Long Reach and the vice chairman of the Long Reach Village Board.

Rather than face sentencing by a judge in court, the teen-agers, ages 14 and 15, were brought to justice by the other conference participants, who had to agree on the terms of the "resolution."

The two youths will arrange separate times with Baumann to feed the birds and help clean the coop, which houses about 20 king and homing pigeons, including the mother of the dead bird.

The teen-agers, whose names are withheld because they're juveniles, will perform eight hours of community service involving animals at a work site, such as the local animal control office, within 60 days. They will also reimburse Baumann $100, $50 each -- about how much it would cost to buy another bird.

"Once they're working with Mr. Baumann, I have a feeling that the impact of what they did will really sink in," said John Snyder, the village board vice chairman.

The conferencing technique, which is also being used in Baltimore, is based on an aboriginal custom in New Zealand. The program is voluntary and intended to promote rehabilitation through dialogue -- and shame.

Police and juvenile justice officials chose Long Reach for the Howard County project in part because the village is in its second year of the state's "Hot Spot" anti-crime initiative.

Genevieve E. McCardell, the juvenile justice department official who moderated Thursday's conference, said the program will be expanded countywide.

During a tour of his coop Friday, Baumann, an Army nurse, recounted the day he found the pigeon dead on the floor. Once he realized it had been shot in the head, he called police to file a report.

"I was so angry because I found him dead inside there," he said. "I couldn't imagine somebody doing that."

The next day, Baumann found another of his pigeons, this one with an injured wing, sitting in the front yard. Although that

pigeon survived the BB gun attack, Baumann said he doesn't think it will fly again.

The boys were arrested and charged with destruction of property. McCardell flagged the case as one that might be appropriate for the first community conference.

"I guess I'm satisfied," Baumann said of the outcome. "I mean, they're not hardened criminals.

"[The conferencing] might do something for our community," he added. "It might do something positive."

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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