By Dennis Sean O’Brien
WASHINGTON – Youth crime and other issues involving young people are the greatest concerns of city officials nationwide, according to a National League of Cities report released Thursday.
City officials surveyed in October said youth crime has been getting progressively worse over the past five years, the league’s 12th annual “State of America’s Cities” showed.
Six of the top 10 problems described as worsening by the 406 officials responding involved young people – crime, gangs, drugs, teen pregnancy, school violence and family stability.
Only officials from cities with 10,000 or more people were surveyed.
NLC president Greg Lashutka, the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, said the predominance of youth-related concerns suggests that “many young people in our communities are becoming hostile, alienated, or isolated in their outlook on life.”
In Maryland, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County had the highest numbers of youth arrests in 1994, according to the most recent figures from the Maryland State Police.
Baltimore City had the most violent crime arrests of youths, with almost 1,300 in 1994, according to Maryland State Police.
Baltimore County and Prince George’s County each had almost 700.
Anne Arundel County had 68.
Violent crime includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
The Glendening administration views youth crime as a “serious concern,” spokesman Ray Feldmann said. The governor started several Department of Juvenile Justice programs to address the issue, and a bill he initiated to better control disruptive students was heard in both houses of the General Assembly this week, Feldmann said.
Baltimore County Police are addressing juvenile crime on several fronts.
“It’s a trend that concerns us, but we have a number of initiatives to deal with it,” said Capt. Brian Uppercue, the commander of the county police Youth and Community Resources section.
Under Chief Michael Gambrill, the department reduced the size of specialized units to put more police on the streets, Uppercue said.
But the main focus is on preventing children from becoming criminals, he said.
“We’re building positive bridges with kids instead of dealing with them later in criminality,” Uppercue said.
The department also has increased the number of youths that officers coach in athletic leagues and expanded the size of the Police Explorers, he said.
The Explorers are an offshoot of the Boy Scouts of America. The group was created to give young people aged 13 to 18 adult role models in all occupations. There are more than 100 children involved in Police Explorer programs in Baltimore County.
The department is converting an Essex strip mall into a Police Athletic League gym, Uppercue said. It is scheduled to open in April.
Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke had not read the National League of Cities report, a spokesman said, and had no comment.
Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry and Anne Arundel County Executive John Gary could not be reached.
The most improved condition last year and over the past five years in the nation’s cities was the relationship between the police and the communities they serve, the survey showed. Overall economic conditions, neighborhood vitality, volunteerism and cities’ financial shape rounded out the top five improved areas. -30-