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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Mayor Speaks Out on Youth Violence

Something must be done to address youth violence in the Mount Rainier, Brentwood, and North Brentwood neighborhoods. Law enforcement alone will not solve this problem. Pushing money at the problem will not solve the problem. Putting more police on the streets will not solve the problem. Increasing police on the streets supplement overtime pay for officers, increases the City's expenses, and forces crime to a different location.

These supplemental actions (as of yet) has not had any input from those who it affects the most—the City’s young people. This must change. We want our streets safe. We want our young people involved, and yet they have not been invited to the table.

On Wednesday, December 28, 2011, Team Mount Rainier Against Violence Society (Team MAVS) was formed. Its purpose is to work with our Youth, Mayor and Council, and other residents to address youth violence in the City.

City policies that affect young people will be reviewed. It is suspected that there are more policies and codes on the books about dogs and other animals than there are about the City's youth. I will be proposing that there be a review of curfew laws and their impact on youth.

Knowing that most crimes committed by minors are during specific after-school hours, the City must invest in after-school programs and activities that are age appropriate. We must stop letting our older teens invent their own entertainment. Programs for our youth must be developed in conjunction with our youth, their parents, the schools, and Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC). This will require the community sitting down with the youth and these stakeholders to create effective programs and activities.

The key to deterring late-night youth violence is to provide alternatives to the streets in the form of entertainment venues. There should be weekly and monthly organized events and activities for our youth that build healthy character. The old shove them off the streets attitude and tactics have simply not worked! There needs to be a safe place and space for our teens to get off the streets, protect the community, and even have some fun in the process.

This, of course, will require some funding from various sources, but should be a priority for the City of Mount Rainier! The budget for such planning is estimated to cost about $100,000, most of which could come from grant. Until the City is able to raise the kind of money needed to help build a facility for its youth, most of this funding would be spent on providing secure transportation back and forth to current MNCPPC parks and recreation centers. City police would be involved in making this transportation possible using the City's van and caller-a-bus. It would also require the hiring of a youth program and events coordinator that would work with the Mount Rainier Youth Council, Police Department, MNCPPC, and the community's youth and parents to determine appropriate activities and events.

Rather than patrolling the streets in their cars all night where their only interactions with youth are punitive, police officers could be used for proactive measures. Police officers could be very useful as a quiet deterrent at events, during transportation to and from events, and sitting in on planning meetings of the shareholders. Police officers could also be useful as a precautionary insurance policy outside of events. This proposal would simultaneously provide safety, without the youth feeling menaced by the police, build relationships with the youth in the community, and provide parents and the community with a safer environment. In addition, police could be working alongside the youth to make the community safer.

This is all needed because youth in Mount Rainier deserve better than what they have been given over the years. For example, the nearest "free" swimming pool is in Chillum. The pool in the community is and has been out of reach for our youth. Although improving, the Nature Center does not provide an outlet for youth 15 to 22 years of age.

In light of all of the issues surrounding the complexities of violence, the Mayor calls for the following actions:

• Police Department—review and report data to access the role youth 13 and over truly play in contributing to violence in our community, youth arrests, criminal activity, and homicides.

• Mayor and Council —host a public forum on youth recreation and youth violence in the community with youth(13 to 22) participation.

• Mayor and Council —prepare an outline of how they will address youth recreation and violence in the City of Mount Rainier, with a review of curfew laws, their implementation and/or prohibitions, specifically in regards to how youth will be detained and where they will be taken should such a law becomes policy, and budget/funding.

• MNCPPC—review it budget, protocol, and past recreational services in the City of Mount Rainier, providing recommendations for assisting the City in addressing it youth recreation and youth violence issues.

The need for real, comprehensive violence prevention is desperately needed, and the only good solutions are those that begin and end with community involvement, and where law enforcement is a mere tool when needed rather than the centerpiece. The City must open its ears to the voices of what is so often called this City’s future—our young people.

The City needs to provide solutions that our young people believe will work because so far the City has done very little to engage our youth, and the results are obvious! Another murder of a youth in Mount Rainier is UNACCEPTABLE!

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