BALTIMORE -- The Department of Juvenile Services has opened an internal investigation "with the intent of taking appropriate action" after several lawmakers raised concerns about issues that could be contributing to a crime trend involving juvenile suspects committing violent crimes.
In a letter to the Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent Schiraldi and Baltimore Police Chief Richard Worley, the lawmakers drew attention to juvenile violent crime suspects being released shortly after their arrest without explanation. Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen, State Sen. Bill Ferguson, State Del. Luke Clippinger, State Del. Robbyn Lewis, and State Del. Mark Edelson signed the letter.
"When suspects of violent crimes are released immediately, it leaves the public at risk and provides neither accountability, justice, nor much needed structured support services for those suspects that we know are effective at turning lives around," they said in their letter. "Our communities are desperately seeking safety for themselves and their loved ones, and these failures have led to unnecessary violence."
The lawmakers focused on a crime that was committed at the intersection of East Lombard Street and South Patterson Park Avenue on Nov. 1. That's when a female was violently assaulted and robbed by juveniles who attempted to steal her car, according to the letter.
Police officers reportedly arrested the juveniles and contacted the Department of Juvenile Services at that time, per the letter. Officers took the two juveniles—a 12-year-old boy and a 14-year-old boy—to the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center following their arrest, according to a press statement issued by the Baltimore Police Department.
Lawmakers allege that the boys did not remain in the custody of officials but returned to their parents that evening. The officers then filed a police report with the Department of Juvenile Services the next day, they said.
"These two young people committed violent offenses," lawmakers said in the letter. "Existing law is clear: they should have been detained and assessed in our juvenile system; they should not have found themselves at home several hours after committing a violent robbery and assault."
Cohen spoke with WJZ about the letter. He said the problem was bigger than the instance mentioned in the letter.
"Our concern goes beyond that incident, though," he said. "It is a pattern of seeing young folks not being held fully accountable, and again, I speak as someone who is a father. I speak as a former Baltimore City school teacher and, of course, I speak as a councilman."
WJZ has been trackingtargeting Baltimore residents in the southeastern part of the city and other areas.
In one case, a string of crimes occurred between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. in various neighborhoods, includingand communities within the South Baltimore Peninsula.
Victims reported being beaten, punched, and injured—although not seriously.
The victim of the assault talked to WJZ about the experience she endured. She said it was clear the assailants were after her car because they had watched her park it and "stalked" her.
"I heard something behind me, like, rustling and running, and I knew in the back of my mind what was about to happen, and I turned and he just body slammed me, and I got punched in the head. I got kicked," she said.
The assailants were unable to take her car because it was a stick shift, the victim said.
Now, she has to worry about her suspected attackers being back in the city, possibly in her neighborhood, trying to do the same thing to someone else, she said.
"It's really scary because what happened to me—I'm OK, but the next person might not be," she said.
Lawmakers had similar concerns. In their letter, they urged officials at the Department of Juvenile Services and Baltimore Police Department command staff to "urgently review this particular failure collaboratively as a case study of a pattern with our juvenile justice system that needs significant oversight and accountability."
"The laws and policies in place today should have dictated a different result," the lawmakers said.
They noted that the Department of Juvenile Services intended to take appropriate action upon the conclusion of its investigation, which indicates "the level of seriousness required."
"Moving forward, it is absolutely critical that we see an ongoing commitment and dedication to approaching this problem jointly—not as separate agencies—so that something like this cannot happen again," the lawmakers said in their letter. "Our City and State's residents deserve nothing less."
WJZ has reached out to the Department of Juvenile Services to confirm the existence and scope of the investigation.
The Baltimore Police Department issued a statement in response to the letter on Saturday.
"Upon internal review of the incident, the department firmly believes that our officers not only acted within policy, but we commend our officers for quickly apprehending those responsible for these heinous acts, and transporting them to Juvenile Booking for proper processing," the statement said.
Baltimore Police officers were proactive and professional in their effort to review the evidence required to identify the suspects and arrest them, the department said.
"While we agree that the suspects should have been held in custody in order to protect the public, BPD was not responsible for the release of these individuals," the statement said. "We must come together to honestly and openly discuss whether process, policy and/or legislative updates could ensure better outcomes for our residents. BPD is absolutely committed to continuing to evolve into a world class law enforcement agency by adopting policies that are industry best practices, providing state of the art training and continuous self-evaluation and correction."
The Baltimore Police Department said in its statement that it welcomes the opportunity to meet with elected officials, the Department of Juvenile Services, and the State's Attorney to discuss the incident and all possible solutions to issues associated with juvenile crime.
WJZ has been trackingin Maryland. Earlier this year, on whether lenient laws are to blame for certain spikes in youth violence, particularly among repeat offenders.
The Maryland Department of Juvenile Servicesin September indicating that youth crime in the state has declined over the past decade and currently represents only a small portion of overall crime.
However, the report confirmed a stark uptick in car thefts and gun violence among young people.
Under Maryland law, in most cases, children under 13with a crime. Instead, they are diverted to support services and/or put under state supervision.
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