More data demanded on student criminals

Facts aren't shared, chief tells conference

October 24, 2004|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

After examining the rash of school-related violence in recent weeks, Baltimore's police commissioner said yesterday that law enforcement officials need more information on the whereabouts of students with serious criminal records.

"If an individual is going to be moved from school to school, school police should have been given a wake-up call," Commissioner Kevin P. Clark said in an interview after his speech to the second annual Operation Crime Watch conference at the Poly-Western High School complex. "It's not at all clear that's what happened in this case."

His comments referred to reports that the suspect in Thursday's double shooting outside Thurgood Marshall High School in East Baltimore recently transferred to the high school and had a long juvenile criminal record.

When 16-year-old Antonio Williamson was charged with the attempted murder of two brothers - one of whom was a Thurgood Marshall student - he was already wanted on a warrant, according to law enforcement sources.

"We should be aware of exactly where these students are. The entire school and students should be aware, too," Clark added. "Somebody should have been aware of [Williamson's] background."

Confidentiality issue

But sharing information on problematic students is a delicate issue for school, police and juvenile justice officials. Many juvenile records are confidential and cannot be released directly to police, officials said.

Philip J. Leaf, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, said better communication among city police, school and juvenile justice officials should be the first step.

"They don't talk to each other, even about the information that's public," he said.

At the conference yesterday, Mayor Martin O'Malley delivered an upbeat assessment, saying that "as the stubborn homicide rate spits back at us, we are undeterred."

He ticked off signs of success: "We have led the nation in the reduction of violent crime. We have led the nation in greater reduction of drug-related emergency room admissions. "

Still, he said, referring to school violence, "we've had a rough one this week."

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Baltimore Democrat who helped secure federal funding for the crime watch program, said the state's attorney's office and judges have an obligation to prosecute and sentence the students who commit crimes, especially the fire-setters, "to the fullest extent of the law."

Operation Crime Watch started last year after the seven members of the Dawson family were killed in 2002. A drug dealer, who sought revenge for the family's involvement in reporting crime to police, set their house ablaze.

To try to soothe the fears of residents who might be too frightened to contact authorities, police instituted a new 911 feature to allow an officer to respond to a crime scene without learning the identity of the tipster. The goal is to prevent an officer from unwittingly exposing a caller's identity.

Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake said she worked with city police to model the program after one in Philadelphia.

`Can't do it alone'

"Everyone here today knows the police can't do it alone," Rawlings Blake told about 150 conference attendees. Organizers said than more than 200 signed up for the daylong information session on neighborhood approaches to combating crime.

The number of Operation Crime Watch participants in Baltimore has grown to 4,500, according to program coordinator Kevin D. Cleary. There are about 750 block watches in the city, said Israel C. Patoka, director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods.

But City Council President Sheila Dixon said that among the attendees yesterday, none in the Poly-Western High School auditorium was under 21.

"We really have to get young people out here," she said.

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