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Police work with troubled youth

December 12, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Young people who run afoul of the law in Mercersburg have two things to worry about - Larry Thomas the Mercersburg police chief and Larry Thomas their friend.

Nobody knows this better than Scott, a 15-year-old area high school student who met Thomas for the first time Thursday morning.

The boy was ordered to work in a punitive community service program for juveniles that Thomas set up about six years ago. In most cases the youths are sent to Thomas by district court judges and probation officers.

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Scott, whose last name isn't being published because of his juvenile status, was sent to Thomas by his probation officer.

Thomas said his six-man police department comes into official contact with about 100 youths a year. Since January 1996, the department has included the Tuscarora School District in its jurisdiction.

About 80 of the approximately 100 youths become involved with police by being arrested, Thomas said. About 50 are ordered to work in a community service program each year, Thomas said.

About 10 percent of those never saw a district justice or a judge because Thomas intervened - with the blessing of the courts - by offering them a choice of being charged or doing community service.

"We've had good luck with the program. They're not all bad kids, only kids that have done some bad things," he said.

"Usually only two or three kids who go through the program get into trouble again. It gives them a chance to learn about the police, to see that we aren't as bad as they thought and it gives me a chance to learn about them," Thomas said.

Thomas said he continues to track the youths' progress through school and their parents after they leave the program.

"I check on their grades, too," he said.

Scott said his legal troubles include the theft of three cars, four burglaries, six counts of criminal trespassing and "who knows how many retail thefts and simple assaults."

He said he spent two months in a juvenile detention facility. Thomas said Scott also spent two months in a forestry camp.

Scott said he's currently on a five-day suspension from school. He's in a class for problem students for throwing a ball at another student.

Thursday was his first day in the community service program. His mother dropped him off, he said.

He spent most of the day tying red bags over the borough's parking meters that give motorists two hours of free parking during the holidays.

"They paint, sweep the sidewalks, wash and wax police cruisers, a lot of things that save taxpayers money," Thomas said.

Dennis Bennett of Mercersburg voluntarily coordinates the program for the police department, Thomas said.

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