WASHINGTON – A regional board moved this week to take a bite out of motor vehicle thefts, hate crimes and crimes committed by juveniles.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments unanimously approved a three-pronged plan Wednesday, calling on local governments and community-based organizations to:
* create juvenile programs that would replicate successful programs around the country;
* set up a regional classification system for hate crimes, to encourage uniform reporting; and
* distribute brochures to increase public awareness of the rise of auto thefts.
The “Three-Point Crime Plan” followed the release in 1995 of a COG report that identified a rise throughout the region in all three crimes.
The report found a 15.6 percent rise in motor vehicle thefts in the metropolitan-Washington area between 1994 to 1995 – from 25,400 to 29,368. The area includes the District; Prince George’s, Montgomery and Frederick counties in Maryland; the city of Alexandria; and Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia.
In 1995, 310 instances of hate crimes were reported, up from 263 the year before, the report said. Also in 1995, 8,065 cases of juvenile crimes were reported; 1994 figures were not available.
A COG committee estimated that 80 percent of stolen vehicles are left unlocked, said Bruce R. Williams, chairman of COG Human Services and Public Safety Policy Committee.
To bring public awareness to the problem, COG will work with area insurance companies, transportation and law enforcement agencies to create a brochure on car thefts. The brochure will provide tips for motorists on how to prevent them. It will be available for organizations to print and distribute by the spring.
COG will also meet with area judges and prosecutors to encourage them to vigorously prosecute auto theft cases.
And to encourage increased reporting of hate crimes, the plan calls for area jurisdictions to rewrite their hate crime definitions. Classifications for hate crimes now vary. COG is seeking a regional definition.
“Hopefully it will lead to everyone having the same laws,” Williams said.
COG’s plan calls for area juvenile crime programs to be based on successful ones offered around the country. For instance, a Lee County, Fla., program puts students suspended from public school into alternative classrooms, where they learn conflict resolution and how to deal with personal and behavioral problems. In Phoenix, Ariz., girls 5-13 housed in detention centers or jails are organized into Girl Scout troops. They meet with other scouts from outside the prison.
The juvenile plan shied away from recommending a curfew. It said curfews are difficult to enforce and need the support of the local community.
However, some COG members pressed to include them.
“I don’t know if I would agree with the characterization,” said Prince George’s Council member Jim Estepp. “I don’t think we should dismiss” juvenile curfews.
Estepp said a curfew enacted this summer in Prince George’s County has produced a 10 percent reduction in juvenile crime.
“It’s a tool for law enforcement,” Estepp said.
The board agreed to ask one of its committees to look into the viability of more curfews. -30-