By MARY T. ROBBINS
"We all know what we are dealing with, as far as the numbers show," said Col. Kim Ward, who as of Dec. 1 oversees the new Community Resources Bureau, which will focus on preventing juvenile crime.
"We are trying to make sure that violent juvenile crime numbers don't continue to increase," she said. "It's not something we want to stick our heads in the sand about."
Recent statistics show juveniles accounted for nearly one-third of the county's violent crime in the first half of the year.
Ward said the department will rely on programs already in place, such as the Police Athletic League, which provides after-school programs for youths at nine centers throughout the county, and the Juvenile Offenders In Need of Supervision program. That program diverts non-violent, first-time juvenile offenders from the juvenile justice system into community service.
The department is also forming programs aimed at combating juvenile crime, Ward said.
Among them is the Change Program, which deals with more serious offenders, she said.
"This is before reaching the point of adjudication," she said. "This is an assessment of the total environment of a child who comes to our attention."
The program takes into account a child's contacts with the Department of Juvenile Services and level of parental involvement, and also may include visits by juvenile offenders to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, similar to Scared Straight programs designed to deter participants from committing crime by providing first-hand observations of prison life and by interacting with adult inmates.
Ward said the biggest component of the Change Program will involve creating mentoring relationships with at-risk youths and church leaders throughout the county. The first meeting of the faith-based group took place Dec. 12 and involved pastors from 16 churches throughout the county.
Other components of the Change Program include teaming up with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Maryland to train mentors and conduct background checks.
Police are also working with Baltimore County Public Schools to discuss ways to combat truancy.
"We've had a lot of debate about a curfew," Ward said. "We have to evaluate that from start to finish."
Also in the works is what Ward described as a Youth Academy at the Community College of Baltimore County-Dundalk, a program she hopes could be underway by this summer.
The academy would allow youth to learn about careers in law enforcement, attend lectures on health and wellness and participate in role-playing scenarios to better understand a police officer's job.
"There are certainly a lot of great children out there, doing great things and have a lot on the ball," Ward said.
Capt. John Spiroff, commander of the Wilkens Precinct, said:
"We will go after those juveniles just like they were adults. I am not going to cater to treat juveniles differently than anyone else."
His counterpart at the Woodlawn Precinct, Capt. Barry Barber, also said he was glad to see the department focusing on juvenile crime.
"I think it's where we need to go," Barber said.
E-mail Mary T. Robbins at email@example.com