Police target juvenile warrants

City in monthlong effort to reduce backlog of 800

June 03, 2008|By Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz | Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz,Sun Reporters

Daryl Curry, 17, was fast asleep in his grandmother's West Baltimore house when city police came looking for him.

As an officer tried to awaken Daryl about 8 a.m. to serve a juvenile warrant, he noticed the boy was sleeping atop a 41-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun, according to charging documents. The gun was loaded and had been reported stolen in Anne Arundel County, according to charging documents, and the boy was arrested and charged as an adult with possessing a handgun.

The encounter last week was one of the first arrests in a monthlong Baltimore Police Department initiative to clear a backlog of juvenile warrants before the often violent summer months. The department has been working with other agencies to whittle a list of about 800 outstanding juvenile warrants to 250 young people who officials have determined are most likely to commit crimes.

"We are getting some of the baddest of the bad," said Lt. Col. Jesse B. Oden, who is in charge of the city's Warrant Apprehension Task Force. "We want to get some of these kids off the street before summer."

Since the push began May 27, Oden said, members of the task force have knocked on 270 doors and served 50 warrants.

Sheryl Goldstein, the director of the mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, said that her office began coordinating the effort several months ago. At that point, she said, there were as many as 840 warrants outstanding for juveniles. "It hadn't been looked at in some time," Goldstein said. Her group determined that 40 percent were for people older than 18. Others were duplicate warrants. A handful of them were a year old.

Department of Juvenile Services and Baltimore police officials have acknowledged that not serving a juvenile warrant in a timely fashion can jeopardize public safety - and sometimes the juvenile's safety.

Jeffrey Clinton Butler, 18, was shot to death in March while a juvenile arrest warrant languished in the system for four months. The Baltimore teen was wanted for escaping from a juvenile facility in Coatesville, Pa. In November, two 17-year-olds killed in the city were wanted on juvenile warrants for violating conditions of pretrial release.

But some youth advocates were troubled by the potential outcome of the warrant sweep. Angela Conyers Johnese, juvenile justice director of the Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth, said: "Under no circumstance should we be of the position that we need to lock up 250 young people to get through the summer."

She said the city and DJS should focus on getting kids jobs and summer schooling instead of "simply trying to get them off the streets."

She said she also worried that the warrant initiative could bring the city's 144-bed Juvenile Justice Center to its breaking point. Several violent episodes in the past six months, including an April assault that left a DJS worker in a neck brace and a December attack that put a young detainee in Maryland Shock Trauma Center with a broken jaw, have called attention to the justice center's sometimes dangerous environment.

DJS-produced "daily population reports" showed that there were 146 young people at the justice center yesterday morning and that the facility was at or slightly below capacity all weekend - well above the 100-child cap that DJS Secretary Donald W. DeVore has said is his goal.

Beth Blauer, DeVore's chief of staff, said police are mindful of the justice center's population concerns.

"Population has been running a little bit high," Blauer said, "but it is not to a point where we feel extremely uncomfortable."

Blauer said that while some of the juveniles arrested on warrants will need to be detained for public safety reasons, many others will return to their communities. She said the warrant initiative gives DJS the ability to offer services to those youths, helping to connect them to work programs such as the partnership DJS has with the Department of Natural Resources.

"We need to make sure we have a good handle on our entire [juvenile] population this summer," she said. "We need to make sure we know what they're doing and that they're staying busy."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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