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Violent crime rate for juveniles doubles

August 03, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

While Maryland saw an overall drop in the number of juveniles arrested for violent crimes from 1994 to 1995, the rate more than doubled in Washington County in that same period, according to a recent report on child welfare.

The number of youths ages 10 to 17 arrested for violent crimes in the county rose just over 104 percent - from 21 arrests in 1994 to 43 arrests in 1995, the 1996 Kids Count report showed.

The report, issued annually and funded by the Baltimore-based Annie B. Casey Foundation, considers homicide, aggravated assault, forcible rape and robbery to be violent crimes.

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The report's findings shouldn't be taken to mean Washington County has a rampant problem with juveniles committing violent crimes, local law enforcement officials said.

However, the area is grappling with a growing problem, especially with female offenders, said Assistant State's Attorney Susan Lochbaum.

"I think there is more violent crime being committed by younger people," said Lochbaum, who sees every juvenile petition in the county.

There are a lot more serious sex offenses, some dealing with younger children, robberies, some armed, and drug offenses, which are related to violence, Lochbaum said.

She said one of the more disturbing trends is the increase in serious female offenders because the state has no facilities where it can send them for the intense rehabilitation they often require.

The Hagerstown Police Department has arrested more juveniles for violent crimes in recent years, said Capt. Robert Hart.

But there hasn't been a significant increase, said Hart, who said the real rise has been in "nickel and dime stuff."

Crime reporting

Maryland State Police Lt. R. Bruce Tanner said that while he doesn't doubt the numbers - generated by the Maryland State Police Uniform Crime Reporting Program - you need to be careful when dealing with percentage increases for relatively small numbers.

Part of the jump could be attributable to better reporting of the arrests by local police agencies, said Tanner, commander of the Hagerstown barrack.

Although state police are dealing with more juvenile offenders in Washington County, there hasn't been a alarming increase in violent crimes committed by youths, Tanner said.

Drugs and violence

There is a danger of it increasing as the area becomes more populated and younger and younger children become involved in drugs, which could lead them to commit violent crimes, he said.

Drugs and violent crime are definitely intertwined, said Sgt. Charlie Summers, director of the Narcotics Task Force.

Just look at the last two homicides in Hagerstown, both of which had obvious drug connections, Summers said.

The relationship is disturbing given the fact the task force has arrested more juveniles for drug offenses this year than it had by this time last year, he said.

Based on his department's courthouse detail, Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades said juveniles are getting more violent in the crimes they commit and committing them at a higher rate.

Mades said he's having to send more deputies to sit in on juvenile court proceedings because of the types of crimes they're charged with and judges' fear for courtroom safety.

The area's problem reflects a nationwide increase in violence, said Mades, who thinks the glamorization of violence in movies and television promotes it in real life.

Parents who defend their children's illegal behavior aren't helping the problem, he said.

You also see kids who know the juvenile justice system and think they're invulnerable to serious consequences, Mades said.

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