- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2001

Children no longer will be arrested by Metro Transit Police for eating or drinking at a Metro stop or on a train or bus, transit officials said yesterday.
Instead, juvenile scofflaws will be given written warnings up to three a year before they face the chance of prosecution, Transit Police Chief Barry J. McDevitt said.
"It gives the officers more discretion," Chief McDevitt said yesterday before announcing the policy change to the Metro board's safety committee.
Since the policy went into effect Feb. 1, transit police have issued 33 written warnings to juveniles snacking on the Metro system, Chief McDevitt said.
He said a letter is sent to the parents of the offender to inform them of the action. In the District, a letter also is sent to the juvenile's school.
Chief McDevitt said offenders can get up to three written warnings a year before police turn the case over to prosecutors, who then must decide if they will press charges.
The strict enforcement of the policy led to the arrest of 12-year-old Ansche Hedgepeth for eating french fries at a Red Line station during an undercover police operation in October.
Instead of getting a summons and fine of up to $300 like adults do, Ansche and about a dozen other juveniles were carted off in handcuffs by police. She and others later were searched and fingerprinted during the weeklong operation.
At the time, Metro officials defended their actions by saying they had no other choice but to arrest the girl because a 1982 District of Columbia law did not allow police to issue citations to juveniles.
Lawyers with the D.C. Corporation Counsel said no mechanism was in place for juveniles to be released after being issued a citation.
Chief McDevitt conceded that while his department had been working for some time on a new written-warning policy, the public backlash to the incident prompted them to move quickly.
"To be honest with you, the catalyst was that case," he said.
The new policy is in effect in Virginia and Maryland, as well as in the District. A similar written-warning program for adults goes on line April 16.
Police may have to arrest a juvenile who violates the policy, the chief said, if the suspect refuses to give an accurate name and address, is wanted for another crime, fails to comply with officers' orders to stop eating or drinking, or causes property damage.
Arlington County (Va.) Supervisor Christopher E. Zimmerman, a member of the Metro board and vocal critic of Metro's handling of juveniles caught snacking, said the new policy may lead to better enforcement of the transit agency's no-eating and -drinking policy.
"It's not that we don't want enforcement," Mr. Zimmerman said. "The danger is arbitrary and capricious enforcement, and I think we were drifting into that."
Alexandria (Va.) City Council member William D. Euille, also a Metro board member, said the policy should prevent police from treating juveniles committing quality-of-life crimes as hardened criminals.
But Mr. Euille said the new policy will work only if parents, after being made aware of their child's behavior, get involved and prevent them from getting in trouble in the first place.
"I think it brings a holistic approach to how we deal with youth today," Mr. Euille said of the new policy.


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