Burglar alarms from the W. Bell store in White Oak on Friday caused no great stir because 98 per cent of such alarms are false. Unfortunately, a store manager had already been shot and left for dead.

The policeman and security officer who responded to the alarms walked into a trap. They were shot dead.

Not far away, robbers ordered the manager of a Grand Union store to lie down on the floor. He did, but they shot him dead, too.

In Baltimore, homicide detectives found the body of a man who had been shot in the head. Routine police work identified the victim as a man who has been sent to prison for 18 years just five years ago.

What was he doing on the streets of Baltimore? The homicide cops unraveled an almost incredible story about hardened criminals who are released from prison each day on a "work release" program. Busloads of prisoners are dropped off on street corners and trusted to make their way, without supervision, to jobs or classes.

Would it surprise you to learn that the prisoners went everywhere except where they were supposed to? They went to bars and dope dens, drove around in fine autos, perpetrated rapes, armed robberies and at least one murder, and trafficked in drugs. Nobody had checked on them to make sure who was going to work or school and who was not.

It later developed that a few underlings in the corrections system had warned of widespread abuses of the so-called work-release system, but nobody took them seriously.

Meanwhile children who won't be old enough to buy a legal glass of beer for another half-dozen years have already become so hooked on narcotics and on a macho image of themselves that they constitute a major challenge to peace and good order in our nation.

Staff writer Athelia Knight told us in yesterday's paper that in the District of Columbia, one of every four persons arrested for a major crime is under the age of 18. Half of the juveniles who are arrested have been arrested before, sometimes many times before. Police and prosecutors here have identified 155 offenders between the ages of 15 and 17 who have been responsible for 2,363 crimes -- an average of more then 15 crimes per child.

Knight talked to Bruce, who is 17 and was first busted at the age of nine, and to Willie, who at age 18 has already been convicted of seven crimes, four of them crimes of violence, e.g.: beating a man to death with a baseball bat during the course of a robbery.

Willie says he didn't really commit the crime, but he was worried that his adult brother would face "big time."

He knew that as a juvenile he could be sentenced to a maximum of only two years -- although, "Really, you ain't going to do more than nine or ten months. Everybody knows what the system is." So Willie pleaded guilty, was sentenced to two years, and was back on the streets -- and back into criminal activity -- in less than two years. That's the system.

Willie told staff writer Knight that one of his earliest activities was shoplifting. When he was caught, "The police just wrote up a pink slip and let me go. I started laughing."

He's still laughing. He hasn't feared policemen or the judicial system since he found out what the system is.

Knight's report included the usual platitudes from officials who think they are rehabilitating innocent children by shielding them from the consequences of youthful indiscretion.

A different viewpoint was expressed by R. Rimsky Atkinson, former head of D.C. juvenile facilities. Atkinson said:

"The community is creating delinquency. When a youngster does something minor but incorrect and you don't correct him, invariably he will do something else."

Some 30 years ago, I quoted a similar opinion about young people and their need for correction and discipline. This set off one of the liveliest controversies in the District Line's history.

Several readers argued that crime is caused by "broken homes," poverty and bad housing. I countered by asking: If that is so, how does it happen that although brothers are raised in the same home by the same parents, one can become a criminal and the other an honest citizen?

District Liners bombarded me with letters on that subject, but as is obvious, we didn't settle anything.

And I still know as little about the causes of crime as I knew then.