Montgomery Co. officials plan meeting to tackle rise in teen violence

Officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, say they will hold meetings next week to tackle the issue of violent crime — including murder — involving teens.

“We need to throw everything at the wall on this one,” said County Council member Craig Rice during an online news briefing with County Executive Marc Elrich.

“What we don’t want is this to become a situation that’s out of control. It is quite concerning right now — it is not out of control — and we have an opportunity to stave this off before it gets there.”

The gathering, which will not be open to the public, was described as a “high-level meeting” of officials from county agencies as well as members of the County Council. They will brainstorm on everything from outreach efforts to mental health services.

Over the past several months, the county has seen a number of arrests for violent crimes involving teens. Earlier this month, a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old were charged with murder in the deadly shooting of a 21-year-old man. And earlier this week, police announced the arrest of a 17-year-old in the January fatal stabbing of his Northwest High School classmate Jailyn Jones.

During a news conference to announce the arrest in that case, Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones told reporters that his department is seeing more offenders under the age of 18. “And I mean, in some cases, well under the age of 18,” he said.

The rise in violence among youth is not unique to Montgomery County, Elrich said.

“This is certainly part of a national trend,” he said, adding, “I believe really strongly we’ve got to up the mental health ante.”

Officials said they suspect pandemic disruptions are amplifying the problem.

“I can turn off my camera. I can turn off my microphone. I can say what I want to say and there’s nothing. There’s no real consequence,” said Raymond Crowel, the head of the count’s Department of Health and Human Services, who’s a psychologist by training.

“But now we’re back in person with each other, and the risk of saying something inappropriate or having an inappropriate interaction that turns sour and ends up with violence or potentially deadly — it seems to be escalating.”

Also to blame is the easy availability of firearms, including ghost guns, which can be assembled at home. In January, a 17-year-old student at Magruder High shot a 15-year-old classmate in a school bathroom with a 9 mm ghost gun.

“We know that there’s a mental health crisis. We know there’s a proliferation of firearms in our communities across the country,” said Earl Stoddard, assistant chief administrative officer. “It’s a problematic combination.”

The meeting next week, Stoddard said, will focus on areas where the county has seen success and where those efforts can be applied.

“When we look at some of the solutions, it involves more than just government,” Rice said. “Society has got to play a role in taking back their neighborhoods and their communities as well.”

Elrich concurred.

“If we think this is all going to come down to the government and having a silver bullet that I can put, you know, the right number of police in the right place and this will disappear — that’s not going to happen,” he said. “This ungluing of things is a deeper problem.”

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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