Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Young robbers no surprise, say police, activists

Teen, pre-teen suspects behind mini-crime wave

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Three street robberies June 15 and June 16 in the Bel Pre and Layhill areas involved teenage and pre-teen suspects, according to Montgomery County Police, and anti-crime activists say the incidents are not unusual.

‘‘Is it a surprise? No, that’s why we’re there,” said Maura Lynch, an assistant state’s attorney for Montgomery County who is involved with Bel Pre Road-Hewitt Avenue Collaborative Supervision and Focused Enforcement (C-SAFE), an organization that targets at-risk youth.

On June 15, four teenage boys allegedly assaulted and robbed a 44-year-old Silver Spring man as he approached a bus stop about 3:50 a.m. near the corner of Bel Pre and Grand Pre roads in Aspen Hill. When the victim tried to run, the boys allegedly punched him and he fell to the ground.

Two 17-year-old boys, a 16-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy were charged as juveniles with strong-arm robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. Penalties are determined at the discretion of the juvenile justice system on a case-by-case basis, said Lucille Baur, a police spokeswoman.

The following day at about 4:05 p.m., a 20-year-old Silver Spring woman was assaulted and robbed at Bel Pre and Homecrest roads in the Wheaton⁄Layhill area. Three girls between 12 and 15 years old and a boy between ages 7 and 9 knocked the woman off her bicycle. The victim was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

That incident occurred not long after another robbery at the Glenmont Metro station around 2 p.m. June 16, when a 27-year-old woman from Silver Spring was intimidated and robbed by three girls between ages 11 and 14.

Baur said no arrests have been made in connection with the two June 16 incidents, and police continue to investigate the crimes. She said those type of robberies are ‘‘not uncommon,” but youth crime doesn’t necessarily go up just because it is the summer.

Another incident on May 31 involved four male and two female suspects, all between 16 and 22 years old, who robbed and assaulted a 19-year-old and 15-year-old from Silver Spring exiting a bus near Georgia and Hewitt avenues in Wheaton.

Some of the robberies have occurred in the Bel Pre-Hewitt C-SAFE area, which is designated by the state as a high-crime location and receives anti-crime funding from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) Office of Crime Control and Prevention, Baur said. The C-SAFE area is bordered by Hewitt Avenue to the south, Georgia Avenue to the west, Bel Pre Road to the north and Layhill Road to the east.

Crime has been an issue in the area, but residents have not noticed a trend or increase of younger criminals, said Rocky Lopes, president of the Layhill Civic Alliance and the homeowners’ association for Bel Pre Estates.

Lopes said most of the concerns regarding teens revolve around graffiti, loitering around local shopping centers and a lack of available activities.

‘‘Idle time is the worst enemy of the creative kid with energy,” he said, adding that the Mid-County Community Recreation Center being constructed near Layhill and Queensguard roads will help keep youths occupied.

Lynch said she could not comment on the individual cases, but that in similar situations, if the suspects are identified as having home addresses within the designated area, C-SAFE will enlist police or juvenile probation officers to help the children and families.

C-SAFE plans to meet with apartment communities. In addition to that outreach, C-SAFE helped organize a free soccer tournament June 12-13 at Maryland SoccerPlex at South Germantown Recreational Park in Boyds. A National Night Out event is being planned for Aug. 5 to bring different cultures within the community together.

‘‘We have to offer more activities that are affordable for families that are struggling,” said Susan Johnson, co-leader of the Bel Pre-Hewitt C-SAFE. ‘‘There are a lot of camps and activities, but some of our families can’t afford those programs.”

C-SAFE is involved with Excel Beyond the Bell, County Executive Isiah Leggett’s (D) youth initiative program that provides after-school and summer programs to at-risk youth. But Lynch said many of the planned programs and events— including a poetry slam, book club and indoor soccer league — probably will not begin until after the summer.