Rash of community bike thefts blamed on juveniles

A rash of bicycle thefts and vehicle break-ins across Salisbury is frustrating police and city officials who are now seeking solutions to curb a growing juvenile crime problem.

While violent crime in the city has decreased, petty crimes committed by juveniles are on the rise, said Mayor Jim Ireton, who pointed to a recent break-in at Prince Street Elementary School by children ranging from 8 to 14 years old as an example.

Last week, city police arrested several teenagers for bike thefts at University Terrace and Seagull Lane, and vehicle break-ins at Emory Court and Georgia Avenue.

“We have moved the average age of criminals so low,” Ireton said.

The problem is the main reason city officials are considering a youth curfew modeled after one that is in place in Baltimore City. The Salisbury City Council is expected to begin holding public input meetings on the proposed curfew at various locations during the week of Aug. 10, said Police Chief Barbara Duncan.

“We have a lot of problems with juveniles out at 2, 3, 4 in the morning,” she said.

And since many of the crimes are committed in daylight hours, City Councilwoman Shanie Shields said she also would like to see more afterschool programs to help keep kids off the streets. “They really work,” she said.

Duncan said there are two main factors behind the recent crime spree. While juveniles account for most of the bicycle thefts and some vehicle break-ins, other break-ins and shopliftings are the result of the heroin addiction epidemic in the county.

Thefts from motor vehicles have been particularly frustrating for police because most of the vehicles were unlocked with valuables –- including wallets and cell phones — left in plain view.

“Anything not secured is going to get stolen,” said Duncan.

Police noticed an uptick in bike thefts last summer, and they have continued this summer, with reports coming in from Princeton Homes, Delaware Avenue and the Camden neighborhood, and continuing outside city limits into Tony Tank, she said.

City police have been working with campus police at Salisbury University, the Fruitland Police Department, Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office and Maryland State Police in many of the cases, Duncan said.

Bicycles registered with the police department make it easier for officers to find them once they’ve been stolen.

Duncan urged residents to take advantage of the online registration form on the department’s website that allows owners to upload photos with the form.

“That is a great resource for us,” she said. “Our options are fairly limited without a photo.”

At least one local bike shop automatically registers the bicycles it sells, while other stores have the police department forms available for customers, she said.

The police department will assist anyone who does not have Internet access or a camera, Duncan said.

The chief also asked business owners and residents to report anyone they see walking into an area and then riding out on a bicycle, or someone riding a bike while pulling another one in tow.

Ireton said he and others in the city are frustrated by the thefts, many committed by unattended children and parents who won’t do anything to control them.

“We’re out here to do law enforcement, not be babysitters,” he said.

Many of the juvenile offenders live in the Princeton Homes and Delaware Avenue area, and Duncan said Shields helped put together a core group of residents who meet regularly to address some of the problems.

“They’ve been great partners with us,” Duncan said.

But Ireton said he wants to see more action from neighborhood leaders and the NAACP.

“We need to have a frank discussion,” he said. “I’m tired of the fight and I want to know what the solution is.”

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