Police hunt for 'baddest' kids

115 held on juvenile warrants

July 10, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun Reporter

Baltimore police knocked on 1,158 doors last month as they tried to serve warrants on some of the most dangerous kids in the city. The monthlong juvenile warrant initiative - the largest of its kind that city officials could recall - netted 115 arrests, including 38 of "top priority" youths and two who were carrying handguns when they were taken into custody.

"We let them know we mean business," Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said yesterday at a news conference to announce the results of the initiative, which was conducted in coordination with the state Department of Juvenile Services.

"A lot of kids were surprised to see us knock on that door ... asking them to be accountable for their conduct," said Donald W. DeVore, the juvenile services secretary.

Police officials have said the operation was an effort to "get the baddest of the bad" off city streets during the summer months, and it came in the wake of high-profile incidents in which youths who were supposed to have been under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Services slipped out of custody and back into life on the streets.

One of the most recent cases was that of Jeffrey Clinton Butler, an 18-year-old who had run away from an out-of-state juvenile facility where he was serving a sentence for a carjacking in Baltimore. A judge issued a warrant for his arrest in November, but city officials say they didn't hear about it for months. By the time they went looking for him, he had been fatally shot in Southwest Baltimore.

Butler's was not an isolated case. Last year, six of the 18 juveniles killed in Baltimore were under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Services. Two of the 14 killed this year had ties to DJS.

DeVore said his agency "has a responsibility to know" the whereabouts and status of all the youths under its care. "We are ensuring that they are safe and that they can be accounted for," he said. "We are already starting to see progress."

In late April, a team of prosecutors, police and Juvenile Services workers reviewed more than 800 open juvenile warrants with an eye toward serving warrants on kids they determined to be the most dangerous. Most warrants were issued when the youth either failed to appear in court or ran away from a low-security detention facility.

On May 27, officers got to work. Lt. Col. Jesse B. Oden, head of the city warrant apprehension task force, said his five-person unit, plus a special detail of 18 district officers and two school police officers, knocked on doors at all hours of the day and night.

DJS caseworkers accompanied the police to help identify some of the most dangerous youths, said Sheryl Goldstein, the director of the mayor's Office on Criminal Justice.

Of the 115 people they arrested, 10 had already turned 18. Another 37 were youths that the Department of Juvenile Services determined should be held at the city juvenile detention enter.

One challenge of the warrant initiative was managing the population of the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, where kids are detained until trial. The facility is routinely at or near its capacity of 144 boys.

Most of the youths who were served with warrants were given sanctions such as electronic home monitoring rather than being detained, DeVore said.

Goldstein said police and Juvenile Services would keep chipping away at the warrants backlog until it was at a more manageable 200 or 300. By last week, there were about 540 remaining open warrants, but half of those were so old - Goldstein read off one from 1989, one from 1990 and one from 2000 - that the juveniles were no longer juveniles.

Apart from this larger initiative, police and Juvenile Services typically conduct several weekend-long juvenile warrant sweeps each year. And on a regular basis, warrants are served either by Oden's task force or by a Juvenile Services caseworker who is accompanied by district police officers.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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