Community Spirit Fights Drugs

September 01, 1992

Strong communities can battle crime; weak ones often succumb to the predations of the underworld. When residents band together to fight drug dealers in the face of threats and physical intimidation, they deserve praise and support.

Such an example is Battery Village in Havre de Grace, where residents formed a neighborhood council last month and prodded law enforcement agencies to step up foot patrols of the modest townhouse development to crack down on drug dealers.

In the process of uniting to combat drug activity, the neighbors found a broader sense of community that has turned to sprucing up unkempt yards, organizing bake sales and improving the recreation activities and facilities for children. The majority of 116 households don't yet belong to the residents' council but membership is steadily growing.

Several months ago, it was a different story. Residents who stood up to the dealers found their windows broken and their car tires slashed. People were afraid to go outside their homes at night. Drug merchants tried to divide the neighborhood along racial lines with anonymous threats.

Concerned citizens first tried to form a Neighborhood Watch program, but that faltered because the program leaders were visible targets for retaliation. The next step was to spread responsibility through a community association, and to demand increased police intervention. "When I see good people intimidated to the point that they are afraid of stepping outside, I've got to get involved," explained Bobby Sexton, president of the new council.

Battery Village residents learned that they couldn't just call the cops and shut their doors. Their initial disappointment with police response prompted them to consider hiring a private security force. When the neighbors became more involved, however, so did the city police and Harford County sheriff's office. Recently, the state drug prevention program funded more overtime for nighttime foot patrols of the area, a key element to success.

The positive effects of the Battery Village effort are spilling into neighboring Concord Fields, which must rout the same group of criminals. In small towns and suburbs, as well as in the inner city, community anti-crime programs are proliferating. In Edgewood, two apartment complexes afflicted with drug dealers donated space for police satellite offices. A Perryman development contributed money to pay overtime for sheriff deputy foot patrols.

The fight is a lasting one. Scholar Woods in Edgewood has been working for eight years with an active citizens' watch program that has reduced the once-alarming rate of crime, illustrating that community vigilance is a long-term commitment. Government can't ignore communities such as Scholar Woods and Battery Village, but their residents realize that government can't do it alone.

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