Some crime reports to be taken by phone

February 18, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

To free patrol officers for more serious crimes, Howard County police will no longer respond in person on most minor calls about lost property, vandalism and similar complaints.

Starting Monday, two officers assigned to the department's new Telephone Reporting Unit will handle complaints about minor crimes by the telephone.

"I want officers on the street to have more time to concentrate on more solvable crimes and community policing activities," said Chief James N. Robey.

The new reporting policy will enable the two officers to take by telephone, rather than dispatching officers, reports that involve little suspect information or physical evidence.

Such calls will include animal complaints, vandalism under $1,000, telephone misuse, theft under $5,000 and unauthorized use of vehicles, Mr. Robey said. The officers also will take calls for supplemental reports, police information calls, suspicious subjects and vehicles, and noise calls, the chief said.

In the past, police sent an officer to a scene at the request of the person reporting an incident.

"There's no sense in going into a person's residence to say, 'Yes, a bicycle was taken from this porch,' " said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, police spokesman.

People who call 313-2200 to report nonemergency crimes to the Bureau of Central Communications will have their calls referred to the two officers assigned to the unit -- Terri Martin and Donna Mitchell-Rowlette.

"Communications will call our office and leave a message on our voice mail," Officer Martin said. Then, she and Officer Mitchell-Rowlette will return residents' calls to get more details.

But there are exceptions to the new policy. For example, an officer will respond to an animal complaint call if the animal is believed to be rabid or dangerous.

Sergeant Gardner said the department estimates that the two officers will handle 7,000 calls annually.

In the past, the duty officer handled these calls while also fielding a variety of other police information calls.

"It was just an inefficient way" of doing business, Sergeant Gardner said. "The duty officer was taking these calls all day long." Sometimes, callers would be placed on hold, he added.

"We want to catch as many bad guys as we can . . . but to do it in a more efficient manner," Sergeant Gardner said.

Gail Huddleston, property manager for Hilltop Housing in Ellicott City, who acts as a liaison between the Police Department and her community, called the new plan a "great idea."

People often don't report nonemergency calls, sometimes considering them "silly things," Ms. Huddleston said, because they don't want to consume an officer's time.

This new policy may encourage more people to report more nonemergency crimes, which will give police a better understanding of total crimes in the community, she said.

"The more communication between the police and the community, the better," Ms. Huddleston said.

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