Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks says police in the Maryland county will begin stepping up enforcement of an already on-the-books curfew to keep teens off the streets at night, amid a rise in carjackings and other violent crime.
The announcement Monday of a get-tough approach on crime came as Prince George’s County marked its deadliest month in decades — with 24 killings investigated by police in August, alone — and a rise in violent crime by repeat offenders, Alsobrooks said during a news conference.
In particular, Alsobrooks pointed to an “eye-popping” 430 arrests of juveniles this year — nearly double the number last year.
“At this point, these kids don’t just need a hug, they need to be held accountable,” Alsobrooks said. “I know it’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s a fair question: Where are their parents? Where are the aunties, where are the uncles and other family members who are responsible for them?”
Stricter enforcement of the curfew, which already exists in Maryland law, Alsobrooks said, will take effect starting next weekend and last for at least the next 30 days, she said, as part of a “cooling-off period.”
The curfew requires teens under 17 to be off the streets between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and between 11:59 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
In some cases, parents could be fined up to $250 for repeated violations and children could be turned over to the Department of Social Services. The last time the youth curfew was strongly enforced was in 1995, but Alsobrooks said current circumstances warranted bringing it back.
The county executive said the goal is to protect children, not to burden police.
“We need family members to step up and do their part,” she said.
Alsobrooks also pushed for action from the Department of Juvenile Services, which handles youth involved in the justice system, as well as prosecutors and the court system.
The county executive said she is seeking an emergency meeting with the Department of Juvenile Services and will seek answers from officials in the court system to understand “how these kids are being held accountable.”
She also called on the state’s attorney office and courts and police department to release data on arrests and dispositions of cases, saying police are continuing to arrest and re-arrest repeat offenders, both adults and juveniles.
“In short, we have an accountability problem in our county,” Alsobrooks said.
She added, “We need our entire criminal justice system to act and full public transparency so that we can tackle this issue together.”
State’s attorney responds
In an online news conference held later Monday afternoon, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said the crime problem is at a crisis, and the number of young people committing carjackings is “outrageous.”
But she added, “We absolutely hold people accountable for serious crimes,” Braveboy said, pointing to her office’s 98% conviction rate.
“We are a part of the justice system; we make recommendations, but we are not the final say,” Braveboy said, adding that changes to the law in recent years have impacted how juvenile cases are handled, including restricting when a juvenile can be held and their rights during and after their trials.
“Sometimes we disagree and we are upset with the decision of those in the justice system. But our system of justice only works if we all respect everyone’s role and we understand the law,” she said.
Braveboy, who said she wasn’t invited to Alsobrooks’ earlier news conference, called on the county executive to reinstitute a series of collaborative weekly meetings with all players of the criminal justice system, which she said were used to great effect by Alsobrook’s predecessor, Rushern Baker, to handle an earlier surge in crime in 2011.
“That is what leadership is about,” Braveboy said. “It’s not about pointing fingers.”
Regarding the county’s effort to step up enforcement of the youth curfew, Braveboy said, if properly enforced, it could be helpful in keeping young people safe, but that since enforcement was limited to civil penalties her office wouldn’t have much of a hand in helping carrying it out.
Referring to Alsobrooks’ news conference, Braveboy said, “I think what we saw was politics,” adding, “When there is a crisis, we must have cool heads so that we can think through strategies that work.”
Spike in carjackings
The county executive’s news conference followed a Labor Day weekend in which four people in the county were killed in shootings, including a 15-year-old from D.C. killed during a shooting at a convenience store Saturday night. Another 15-year-old is in critical condition related to the same shooting, and a baby girl, who was shot in an apartment in Glenn Dale, remains hospitalized.
Even with the spike in killings in August, homicides in the county are down 15% compared to last year, according to county data. Alsobrooks said that’s evidence of her administration’s efforts to get a handle on the rise in violence.
“But the truth of the matter is, we are still seeing concerning levels of crime” including a spike in carjackings often carried out by what she called “armed and dangerous children.”
There have 350 reported carjackings in the county so far this year — a 52% increase over last year, and juveniles make up more than half of all carjacking arrests. Many of the young people arrested for carjacking are also repeat offenders, according to the county’s data.
Of the 84 juveniles arrested for carjacking offenses this year, 55 had prior arrests and 34 had prior arrests for a previous violent crime or a gun offense, according to Prince George’s County Police Chief Malik Aziz, who called the number juveniles who are being repeatedly arrested “deeply troubling.”
“The vast number of juveniles are out doing the right thing and living a meaningful and positive live in Prince George’s County,” he said. “These are the outliers that are causing our residents to fear so much crime in our own neighborhoods.”
Adults made up 61 of carjacking arrests so far this year.
Appearing at the same news conference, Prince George’s County Council President Calvin Hawkins said he supports Alsobrooks’ “decisive action” on the youth curfew and suggested the county council would exercise its oversight powers over the court system.
“Somebody has to ask the question: Who is allowing these individuals to return to our streets?” he said. “Yes, we can say little Johnny and little Lisa are so nice. But if they’re perpetrating crimes that are impacting the community we have to live in, enough is enough.”