- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

Juvenile crime in the District decreased slightly last year for the first time since 2002, despite a 36 percent increase in robberies and carjackings that has city officials still searching for a solution to underage crime.

“I have a great deal of concern, quite frankly,” Chief Charles H. Ramsey of the Metropolitan Police Department said Friday. “It’s certainly too early to say it’s a downward trend.”

The number of juveniles arrested in the District decreased from 2,952 in 2004 to 2,928 in 2005, a 0.81 percent decline, according to statistics from D.C. police and the city’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

Still, the number of juvenile arrests last year was nearly 32 percent less than in 1996, when the District was dealing with the last of a crack-cocaine epidemic, and the 4,284 arrests were the most in the city in the past 10 years.

Despite such improvements, the number of juvenile robbery and carjacking arrests in the city increased from 153 in 2004 to 209 in 2005. And nearly one out of every three suspects arrested for robbery last year was a juvenile.

“Robbery is a very violent crime, and when we take a look at juvenile crime, it’s far too soon to think that things are getting better,” Chief Ramsey said.

The overall decrease last year still represents a minor victory for advocates of juvenile-justice reform in the District, including Vincent Schiraldi, who took over the city’s troubled Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services in January 2005.

Mr. Schiraldi is pushing a more positive approach to helping juvenile offenders — sending them to community-based rehabilitation programs, instead of locking them away in detention facilities.

He pointed out that juvenile crime in the District over the past decade decreased almost simultaneously with the city’s decreasing incarceration rate for juveniles.

“We want to put kids into locked custody who belong there and not put kids into locked custody who don’t belong there,” Mr. Schiraldi said. “When you lock up kids who shouldn’t be, you do more damage.”

However, the approach has created tensions between his department and city police. Adrian M. Fenty, chairman of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Human Services, which oversees the youth-services agency, said some police think the agency releases too many juveniles who should be in detention facilities.

Agency officials say police arresting more teens without proper rehabilitation programs will not solve the juvenile-crime problem.

Mr. Fenty, a Ward 4 Democrat and mayoral candidate, said much of the “finger-pointing” goes on behind closed doors. “The community’s saying, ‘Why is there all this crime?’ and police say, ‘They’re letting people out.’”

Chief Ramsey said much of the disagreement is the result of the police department not having access to such information as where teens in the juvenile-justice system are staying and when they are released.

“There are barriers to us getting information about juveniles,” he said. “I think that’s ridiculous. There’s no way in the world that information should not be shared with the police.”

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