Po­lice see rash of teen thefts

Vol­un­teer res­cue group finds homes in the Bal­ti­more area for dogs ne­glected or aban­doned in Kuwait Armed youths rob­bing vic­tims across the city, rais­ing crime sta­tis­tics

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Rec­tor

An 11-year-old boy was walk­ing near Pat­ter­son Park in South­east Bal­ti­more when five teenagers ap­proached on bikes. One pulled out a knife, ac­cord­ing to po­lice, said, “Give me your stuff,” and ri­fled through the boy’s pock­ets. He stole $6 and a cell­phone.

Across town a cou­ple of hours later, a 64-year-old man was read­ing a book on a bench in the Wy­man Park Dell near the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity. A group of teens ap­proached, po­lice say, put a gun to his head, sprayed him with pep­per spray, stabbed him and stole his be­long­ings.

One of the teens ca­su­ally streamed video of the at­tack on Face­book.

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials say both in­ci­dents, de­scribed in po­lice records, fit an alarm­ing pat­tern: rov­ing groups of armed teenagers, work­ing around the clock and across Bal­ti­more, brazenly tar­get­ing vic­tims for cash, cell­phones and other be­long­ings.

They say the at­tacks are help­ing to drive the high­est rate of rob­beries the city has seen in years.

“We just have a larger pool of sus­pects be­cause we are now see­ing ju­ve­niles who don’t have a ju­ve­nile record be­ing in­volved in these crimes,” said Bal­ti­more po­lice Maj. Kim­berly Bur­rus, com­man­der of the de­part­ment’s dis­trict de­tec­tive unit, which in­ves­ti­gates rob­beries citywide.

“Now what we’re see­ing is a lot less drugs — a lot less drugs, it’s shock­ing — and we’re see­ing a lot more rob­beries.”

“When we ar­rest one group of ju­ve­niles, we have an­other group that pops right up.”

Gavin Patash­nick, chief of the ju­ve­nile divi­sion in the Bal­ti­more state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice, said the trend is not nec­es­sar­ily new, but one pros­e­cu­tors are try­ing to com­bat.

“The pub­lic’s fed up, and the per­cep­tion is that we live in a ‘Clock­work Orange’ world where kids are roam­ing around and beat­ing peo­ple up,” Patash­nick said. “We’re al­ways try­ing to fig­ure out the an­swer, what the magic bul­let will be to solve vi­o­lence, par­tic­u­larly youth vi­o­lence.”

Ericka Al­ston-Buck, who heads Kids Safe Zone in West Bal­ti­more, said youth crime — even when it ap­pears brazen or care­less — is of­ten an ex­pres­sion of the teens’ own vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

Kids can be com­pelled to take up crime, she said, ei­ther as a means of so­cial or phys­i­cal sur­vival in im­pov­er­ished neigh­bor­hoods, or as an emo­tional re­lease af­ter suf­fer­ing trauma in their dys­func­tional fam­ily lives. “We’ve got all these lost kids,” she said. Rob­beries were up 12 per­cent this year through Sept. 24 com­pared with the same pe­riod last year, ac­cord­ing to citywide crime data, reach­ing at least a six-year high. The in­crease has pushed over­all vi­o­lent crime up 5 per­cent, de­spite de­clines in other crimes, in­clud­ing homi­cides, rapes and ar­sons.

The spike in rob­beries is be­ing led by car­jack­ings, up 44 per­cent, and “mis­cel­la­neous” rob­beries — at schools, Metro sta­tions and other semi-pub­lic lo­ca­tions — which are up 64 per­cent. Res­i­den­tial rob­beries are up 7 per­cent; street rob­beries are up16 per­cent. Com­mer­cial rob­beries are down.

The Po­lice De­part­ment’s clear­ance rate for rob­beries this year is 34 per­cent, slightly be­low the rate last year, but above re­cent na­tional av­er­ages.

Po­lice said they do not track the ages of rob­bery sus­pects in the city, so it is im­pos­si­ble to know whether the num­ber of youths com­mit­ting such crimes has risen, or if so by how much. In many cases, the ages of sus­pects in an un­solved rob­bery are un­known.

What is known is that the num­ber of ju­ve­niles charged with rob­bery has in­creased, from 220 last year through Sept. 23 to 265 dur­ing the same pe­riod this year, ac­cord­ing to the state De­part­ment of Ju­ve­nile Ser­vices, a 20 per­cent jump.

The num­ber charged with car­jack­ing rose from 13 to 20. The num­ber charged with rob­bery with a deadly weapon rose from 54 to 58.

While po­lice are ar­rest­ing more youths, Bur­rus said, younger teens are ready to take their place. And when ju­ve­niles are ar­rested for se­ri­ous rob­beries, she said, they are be­ing pro­cessed quickly through the ju­ve­nile ju­di­cial sys­tem and land­ing back on the streets to com­mit the same crimes again — at times with court-or­dered mon­i­tor­ing de­vices strapped to their an­kles.

“We see a lot of ju­ve­niles com­mit­ting crimes that they have al­ready been ar­rested for,” Bur­rus said.

Po­lice say groups of ju­ve­niles and oth­ers were caus­ing fender-ben­ders to rob the un­sus­pect­ing driv­ers of the ve­hi­cles they hit.

In North and Northwest Bal­ti­more, po­lice say, a group who called them­selves “the Jankz” were re­cruit­ing ju­ve­niles to com­mit car­jack­ings, then us­ing the ve­hi­cles them­selves to com­mit more rob­beries.

And po­lice say they have seen a citywide in­crease in call­ers lur­ing for-hire sedan and il­le­gal hack driv­ers to a lo­ca­tion, where they are ap­proached by a fe­male and then robbed by two males.

The in­crease in rob­beries is most pro­nounced in the South­east­ern Dis­trict, where they’re up 38 per­cent, and the South­ern Dis­trict, where they’re up 30 per­cent.

Rob­beries are up11 per­cent in the Cen­tral Dis­trict, 16 per­cent in the Eastern Dis­trict and 12 per­cent in the West­ern Dis­trict.

Rob­beries are down 3 per­cent in the South­west­ern Dis­trict, 4 per­cent in the North­west­ern Dis­trict and 12 per­cent in the North­ern Dis­trict. They’re up 20 per­cent in the North­east­ern Dis­trict.

Bur­rus said of­fi­cers feel as if they are “deal­ing with a dif­fer­ent men­tal­ity and a dif­fer­ent cul­ture” in Bal­ti­more, in which teens are more will­ing than ever to en­gage in vi­o­lent crimes.

Patash­nick, of the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice, said pros­e­cu­tors and po­lice have had some suc­cess in re­cent years dis­rupt­ing youth rob­bery trends, such as teens tar­get­ing their peers around school build­ings.

Still, he said, the vol­ume of teen rob­beries is a prob­lem, and has grown since he was an as­sis­tant state’s at­tor­ney about a decade ago, when more of the ju­ve­nile crime in the city was as­so­ci­ated with drug deal­ing.

“Now what we’re see­ing is a lot less drugs — a lot less drugs, it’s shock­ing — and we’re see­ing a lot more rob­beries,” he said.

Teens in poor neigh­bor­hoods have re­al­ized they can make as much money rob­bing peo­ple as they do deal­ing drugs, Patash­nick said, with less risk of be­com­ing vic­tims of vi­o­lence them­selves.

Je­mal Cole, a 42-year-old com­puter pro­gram­mer who lives in the Chin­quapin Park neigh­bor­hood of North Bal­ti­more, said he knows the pat­tern well. The fa­ther of two has been robbed twice in the last year.

The first time, in Novem­ber, he was walk­ing along North­ern Park­way when he was struck in the head from be­hind, punched re­peat­edly in the face and kicked in the ribs. His nose was bro­ken, and he needed stitches. His cell­phone and wal­let were stolen.

He never got a good look at his at­tack­ers, but a wit­ness de­scribed them as teens.

In Jan­uary, Cole was walk­ing in the area when a teen “ran up from be­hind, punched me, threw me up against a car and smashed me in the face with a rock a few times,” he said. An­other teen pro­duced a gun, he said. They took Cole’s phone and ran off, “just sort of laugh­ing and jok­ing and smil­ing the whole way.”

Cole spoke with po­lice both times, he said, but no sus­pects were ar­rested.

Af­ter the sec­ond at­tack, he said, he and his wife “stopped walk­ing around our neigh­bor­hood for the most part.”

“I just don’t un­der­stand the glee in beat­ing some­one up and mak­ing a game of it,” he said.

“I re­main hope­ful. I want kids to do bet­ter. I want all of us to do bet­ter, the city to do bet­ter. I haven’t stopped giv­ing to char­i­ties that serve these kids, or hop­ing that things will turn out bet­ter for these kids. I just wish they would have some em­pa­thy for other peo­ple.”

Patash­nick said pros­e­cu­tors of­ten ask that teens who have com­mit­ted vi­o­lent crimes be de­tained, but some­times the as­sess­ments used in ju­ve­nile cases to de­ter­mine whether a youth will of­fend again lead judges to put them back on the street.

He said the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice is work­ing to pro­vide more sup­port pro­grams for kids to pre­vent re­cidi­vism.

Al­ston-Buck, of the Kids Safe Zone, said some kids are “steal­ing for sport” to blow off steam in a world where they are rou­tinely trau­ma­tized, poorly ed­u­cated, dis­re­spected and given few out­lets to ex­pend their en­ergy and frus­tra­tion in con­struc­tive ways.

She said oth­ers are try­ing des­per­ately to fit in on city streets where cash flow means ca­chet, so they rob a vic­tim and then go out and buy the most pop­u­lar pair of sneak­ers, or bags and bags of candy for their peers.

“They want to be the man on the block,” she said.

Oth­ers, she said, are turn­ing to crime to sur­vive.

“Do we un­der­stand how many teens are home­less?” Al­ston-Buck asked.

She said the city needs more “trau­main­formed” adults to help teens turn their lives around and the re­sources to help them do it.

She de­scribed a re­cent con­ver­sa­tion with a man in his early 20s. He told her he was strug­gling to get by. His mother had re­cently died; his fa­ther was nowhere to be found. He was sleep­ing at a girl­friend’s house but had to pay her fam­ily to do so.

“He said, ‘How do you think I eat at night?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Al­stonBuck said.

“He said, ‘I rob peo­ple. I lit­er­ally hide in a bush near a bus stop. I don’t care if it’s an old lady. I don’t care if it’s a mother and her chil­dren. I don’t care if it’s a guy in a uni­form. I rob peo­ple.’ ”

The young man told her he sleeps with a .45-cal­iber hand­gun and a .38-cal­iber hand­gun.

“I don’t feel good about it, but it’s all I have to do un­til I find a job,” he told her.

Al­ston-Buck talked to com­mu­nity lead­ers and col­lected $40 to get the young man through the night, buy­ing her time to find him a job.

“Can you please not rob some­one tonight?” she asked as she handed over the cash.

“He said, ‘I prom­ise you I won’t.’ ”

Gavin Patash­nick of the Bal­ti­more state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice, on ju­ve­nile crime

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