On a balmy Saturday night recently, Officer Frank Wesley was alerted over his police radio to respond to a call at the Kennedy High School parking lot in Silver Spring where someone had apparently thrown a beer bottle at a passing car.
When Wesley arrived, he found about 40 cars in a darkened corner of the school parking about lot 150 teen-agers who apparently been smoking marijuana, drinking beer and smashing the bottles on the ground.
It was the first day of April and Wesley recalled thinking that the season for chasing youth across the country had arrived early this year.
Although the youths at Kennedy High School that evening received a warning, Montgomery police are planning to crack down this summer on congregations of youths who block passageways and are disorderly in shopping centers and who use schoolyards and parking lots to drink and make drug deals.
But coupled with the crackdown will be an effort by police officers to bring more youngsters in touch with county outreach workers who can direct the youths to various recreational programs in the county, according to Captain Steve Filye, commander of the Wheaton-Glenmont police station, which handled the kennedy High School incident.
"This is more than just a police problem, it's a community problem . . . If you chase the kids away, they're just going to come back again as soon as the officer is gone . . . The kids have a legitimate concern too. They don't know where to go," said Filye.
In the next few weeks, youth workers will meet police officers from each of the district stations throughout the county, according to Charles Steinbraker, coordinator of youth and recreation services for Montgomery. The officer are planning to take the youth workers along with them at their beats so they can identify troubles spots in the country and direct the yoouth who congregate in these areas to recreational activities.
Filye has also instructed officers to takes names of youngsters who show up habitually in these gathering places and inform the parents of their children's whereabouts.
"There'll always be a few bad seeds," said Wesley, "kids who don't want get involved in any (youth) program, who'll say to hell with the police, to people will charged," said Wesley.
Wesley has written letters to all the high schools, asking principals to inform students that the county's laws prohibiting loitering, drinking in public places and trespassing on school property will be enforced.
According to Pfc. Bruce Blair, crime analyst in the Wheaton district, most youths who hang out in shopping centers do not have court records, but represent "the subculture of kids who can't find any entertainment in going to the movies or a dance."
"The problem lies in the fact that if you allow a group to remain, sooner or later, there'll be somebody in that crowd who breaks the law, maybe by furnishing a minor with beer or drugs," Blair said.
Police in other area jurisdictions said they handle the loitering problem on an individual basis.
"All we can do is flush them (the youngsters) out (of gathering places) or take legal action against them," said Officer Doug Hill, Prince George's County police spokesman. "It's up to the officer to use discretion."
In the District of Columbia, where there is no general loitering statute, officers may refer youths who congregate habitually on street corners and in front of stores to the city's boys' and girls' clubs, according to Sgt. Larry Soulsby, police spokesman.
"If they're blocking a sidewalk or drinking in public, we'll probably end up taking them into custody and notifying the parent and try to get some corrective action . . . If a kid is always in trouble, we may refer that kid to the court," Soulsby said.