Traditional police tactics have been only marginally effective in combating the drugs and mayhem that often plague subsidized housing projects. The police swoop down, arrest a few offenders and the illegal activity starts up again. Howard Police Chief James Robey thinks he's hit upon a solution that will not only stem the tide of drugs but forge a healthier interplay between police and community.
The experiment under way in Columbia's Stevens Forest Apartments, a neighborhood troubled with open-air drug markets, is a partnership between residents and police. This approach isn't new; it's being used with some success in urban areas all over the country. The idea is to get input from residents on what the trouble is, who is causing it and how to stop it. Take drug dealing. The traditional answer calls for beefed up patrols; a community-oriented strategy might favor better street lights or the removal of obstructions shielding illicit activity.
What Chief Robey envisions is a hybrid approach that sends a clear message to offenders. Police will work closely with the firm that manages the complex to identify and evict residents involved in criminal activity. Nuisance violations will be vigorously enforced. Beat cops will patrol the streets.