O'Malley responds as youth killings rise

Number of homicides has almost doubled compared with last year

July 11, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Worried about a recent spike in juvenile homicides, Mayor Martin O'Malley discussed plans yesterday to step up efforts to prevent the killings.

Sixteen juveniles were killed during the first six months of the year -- almost double the nine killed during the same period last year. In 2000, eight juveniles were killed from January through June. (The statistics do not include deaths related to child abuse. One juvenile has died this year under those circumstances.)

O'Malley said he did not want the trend to continue. "I don't want us to continue to the end of the year and be the capital of juvenile murder in America," the mayor said.

To combat the problem, O'Malley said he was going to push police and the state Department of Juvenile Justice to check on youths on probation, step up monitoring and mentoring efforts, and shift some responsibilities among city agencies.

O'Malley also expressed frustration with the city school system, which has had difficulty tracking truancy.

"The school system has been unable to tell us" where the pupils are, O'Malley said. "It seems to be a constant operational problem on their side."

School officials could not be reached for comment.

O'Malley discussed the juvenile homicide trend during regular meetings of the Board of Estimates, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and during a KidStat session where city officials discuss issues affecting Baltimore youth.

O'Malley said it was difficult to pinpoint a reason for the increase in youth killings, although he said drugs played a significant role.

"Not all young people killed in the city are involved in drugs, but drugs are often a common thread," O'Malley said. "As well as a neglectful home -- kids who are neglected by everyone except those who are using the kids to deal drugs. They use our kids as drug carriers. ... It's outrageous."

The increase in homicides comes as juvenile shootings have dropped substantially. Through June, 39 youths were shot compared with 60 last year, a 35 percent decrease.

Police said that the juvenile homicide increase might stem from more targeted killings of youth entrenched in the drug trade.

"We're seeing a lot more young people being shot at point-blank range" and not in random cross-fire, said Col. Edward C. Jackson of the city Police Department.

City officials said they are struggling to turn children away from the drug trade and violence. Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner, released statistics yesterday detailing 34 recent juvenile shooting victims.

The victims averaged nearly 16 years old; all were black; 28 out of the 34 were boys; and 26 of the boys had criminal records. They were arrested, on average, for the first time at nearly 12 1/2 years old, and averaged more than five arrests before they were shot.

Through yesterday, 138 people had been killed in Baltimore this year.

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