- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) The number of young people slain in Baltimore this year is up more than 40 percent over last year's total, prompting officials to expand youth programs to try to stop the bloodshed.
As of last Monday, 37 persons under the age of 18 were victims of homicide; there were 26 homicides of juveniles last year.
While juvenile slayings have surged, homicides involving victims of all ages have held steady compared to last year. The city has had 239 homicides this year, compared with 237 by this time last year.
"As we apply pressure out there through law enforcement, drug dealers are recruiting at an increasingly younger age," Mayor Martin O'Malley said. "They just feel it's a cheaper bet to employ our teenagers."
Juveniles also tend to be released into their parents' custody after an arrest and are often quickly back on the streets and in harm's way, said police Maj. Laurie Zuromski of the city's homicide unit.
Five juvenile homicide victims this year died in a fire last month that police said was set to punish their parents, also killed, for reporting drug activity in their East Baltimore neighborhood.
But most of the city's young homicide victims are involved in the drug trade, Maj. Zuromski and others said.
"Juvenile victims that are true, true innocent victims there aren't that many," Maj. Zuromski said. "They're out there in the game."
In an effort to steer children from the drug business, Mr. O'Malley has sent letters to at least 200 city churches, mosques and synagogues, asking them to recruit mentors for the more than 800 city teens who appear headed for serious trouble.
Three churches have responded with 175 mentors, said Jamaal Moses, executive director of the mayor's Office of Children, Youth and Families.
Meanwhile, officials have started a program intended to improve the mentoring and monitoring of young, violent offenders.
Under Operation Safe Kids, a program announced in September that started last week, officials are meeting weekly to monitor young people under state supervision.
"We go through kid by kid. Are they in at curfew? What are the issues in family? So they will not be out on the streets where they are at risk to others and where they are risks to themselves," said city Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson, who is leading the program.
There are 12 young persons in the program, but the goal is to increase the number to 80 by the end of the year.

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