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Hearing on the Status of the District of Columbia's Juvenile Justice System

Friday, October 28, 2005

Hearing on the Status of the District of Columbia's Juvenile Justice System

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department

Chief Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following statement to the US House of Representatives, Committe on Government Reform, Honorable Tom Davis Chairman, at the Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2154, Washington, DC.

  • Download a printable version of the statement
Mister Chairman, Congresswoman Norton, other members of the Committee … thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony concerning the District of Columbia’s juvenile justice system. Juvenile crime is a serious concern today, and it will continue to be so in the future, as the juvenile population is expected to increase by 24 percent over the next two decades.
 
The Metropolitan Police Department is one of many entities – public, private and non-profit – that compose DC’s juvenile justice system. While the MPD has unique responsibilities within this system, we certainly share in the overarching goals of protecting our youth and protecting our communities through prevention, intervention and enforcement strategies. Our agency may have primary responsibility for enforcement, but we do work very hard – and, I believe, quite successfully – on a number of prevention and intervention initiatives as well. Let me provide a few examples.
 
In partnership with the faith community, the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs and other community leaders, our Department offers a range of recreational and social opportunities for young people, in particular those from economically challenged families and communities. This past summer, we operated summer camps in our police districts, and we once again staffed Camp Brown, in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs. Along with our Clergy Police Community partnerships, we held “40 Days of Increased Peace” this summer, a series of family crime prevention and community building events. And individual police districts conducted a variety of programs, from athletic leagues to fashion shows. Our objective is to provide opportunities for young people to explore and experience positive new and activities in a safe environment.
 
In the area of intervention, our Department is in the process of revamping and expanding our innovative OPAT program – Operation Prevention Auto Theft. Auto theft in DC is a serious crime, in and of itself.  Auto theft and unauthorized use of a vehicle are also “gateway crimes” for our youth; involvement in these offenses often signals more serious criminal activity in the future. OPAT takes first-time offenders and provides them with intensive education and intervention services, focusing on community impact and their own lives. To date, there have been 95 participants in the program, with 10 being re-arrested for auto theft and another 12 re-arrested on other charges. While our goal is zero recidivism, these initial numbers are at least encouraging.
 
Other intervention strategies include increased enforcement of curfew and truancy laws. So far this year, MPD officers have picked up more than 2,700 curfew violators, or over twice the total from all of 2004. In addition, officers have picked up more than 2,000 truants this calendar year, also an increase. Our goal in both areas is to get young people off the streets during times when they are most vulnerable to crime, as either victims or offenders. This school year, the MPD also assumed management responsibility for security inside DC Public Schools. This reform is not only helping to enhance security inside the schools; it is also providing for additional coordination between our school safety and community crime-fighting efforts.
In the area of enforcement, our Department’s activity remains high – and highly focused on priority crime types. Last year, MPD officers arrested close to 3,000 juveniles for a variety of offenses, an increase of 15 percent from 2003. This year, our arrest numbers are tracking at about the same level as 2004. We are paying particular attention to the crimes of auto theft, UUV and robbery. Citywide, robbery and weapons violations are the only serious crimes that are on the rise this year. These increases have been fueled, in part, by juvenile offenders. We are targeting these crimes through a number of enforcement initiatives, and have arrested several juvenile suspects in recent weeks.
 

Probably the most encouraging statistical trend we have seen this year is a sharp decline in the number of juvenile homicide victims. So far this year, there have been 10 young people age 17 or younger murdered in DC. That compares to 23 at this time last year. And of the 10 victims this year, three were young children or infants who were killed by family members or other caregivers. Ten juvenile homicides is still 10 too many in my mind, but we have successfully reversed last year’s particularly violent trend.

 

For our juvenile justice system to be even more effective in the future, there must be even greater cooperation and information sharing among all of the entities involved. This issue has come into sharp focus in recent days with the homicide of 16-year-old Marcell Merritt and subsequent information about his criminal activity and detention history over the past few years.

 

Currently, the Metropolitan Police Department is not receiving juvenile justice information that I believe would assist us in our mission of protecting young people and safeguarding communities. For example, when young offenders are assigned to group homes or given home detention, I feel strongly that our police officers have a right to know who those young people are, where they have been sent, what their juvenile history is, and any conditions on their release, such as curfews, stay-away orders and the like.

 

Currently, our Department is not receiving this information, because it is considered part of the “social files” on juveniles. Let me assure everyone that our Department is not interested in seeing the psychological evaluations, treatment plans or similar information contained in these files. But we should have access to basic detention and criminal history information that is essential to helping us protect our neighborhoods. Our police officers cannot be expected to enforce a juvenile’s conditions of release if we don’t even know what those conditions are. We should also be informed immediately when juveniles abscond from any facility in the juvenile justice system and when there is any change in a juvenile’s status.

 

In the interest of protecting our communities – and, as in the case of Marcell Merritt, protecting young people themselves – our police officers should have access to basic and limited information about juvenile offenders in our neighborhoods. Thank you.