A task force of six county police officers is looking for the most effective way to bring back the old concept of "beat cops" in local neighborhoods.
Under the community policing program, individual officers would likely be assigned to individual neighborhoods or areas, where they would try to make local contacts, said Lt. Jeff Spaulding.
"Potentially, this would have a tremendous impact on crime in that community, and the quality of life in general," Spaulding said. "Itwould be a two-way street. The officer would get to know the community and the community would get to know the officer."
Spaulding, who heads the task force appointed by Chief James N. Robey, said he hasbegun studying community policing programs in other departments bothhere and in other states. County police hope to have their own program in place by next spring.
But "we haven't developed any concreteplans yet," Spaulding said. "While community policing will likely bea reality someday in Howard County, what form it will take is another thing that will take a lot of consideration."
Community policingis loosely based around the old concept of beat police officers in big cities. An officer was typically assigned to a neighborhood, wherehe was expected to acquire a feel for the community and get to know as many local residents as possible.
Over the years, however, police have become more problem-oriented than neighborhood-oriented, withnumerous different officers responding to neighborhoods as problems arose, Spaulding said.
"We're re-thinking that now. We'd like for an officer to be able to look at a crime in a particular neighborhoodand say, 'Well, this is part of a larger problem. What can we do about it?' " Spaulding said.
One option, as other police departments have tried, is to set up small satellite offices throughout the county. Prince George's County police use about seven such offices as bases for their community policing operation, Spaulding said.
The satellite offices usually are established in problem-related areas. In Howard County, an ideal location for a satellite office might be in an apartment complex where there has been a history of disturbances, Spaulding said.
Some local apartment complexes already have expressedinterest in the idea and may be able to offer empty apartments that police could use, he said.
The community policing concept has beenardently supported by Robey, a 25-year veteran of the county police force who started out as a beat officer of sorts in the early days ofColumbia.
Robey, who has worked in the past with the local YMCA and the Community Relations Council of Howard County General Hospital,took over as chief last March and said that he hoped to make the department more involved with its community.