Police open satellite office in Oakland Mills Stevens Forest fears are eased

April 15, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

When crime was at its worst, Nellie Squirrell felt like a prisoner in her home at the Stevens Forest Apartments in Oakland Mills.

Drug dealers frequently exchanged crack outside the apartments. Fights, and sometimes gunfire, erupted there.

"I was scared to go outside," said Ms. Squirrell, 58. "I barricaded myself inside."

But this week things are looking up for the 21-year resident of the apartment complex.

County police opened a satellite office in one apartment, a step toward more community-oriented policing.

The office is a first for the county, and Chief James N. Robey said he hopes the project becomes so successful that more will open.

"I feel very good about it," Chief Robey said. "I think it's a step that's long overdue."

The apartment management donated the first-floor apartment to police to help increase officers' presence in the community.

The office will serve as a base for beat officers to write reports, make follow-up telephone calls and conduct interviews. In addition, members of the department's crime prevention unit will work there six hours a week.

Police plan to begin AIDS awareness and after-school youth programs in the office, too.

"We plan to go beyond policing," said Pfc. Tara Ball, a crime prevention specialist.

In October 1991, apartment residents felt crime was getting out of control, and 60 of them met with police to find a solution.

The two groups became partners, and residents reported 324 incidents to police in a nine-month period, a high number for the area, Private Ball said. Most of the reports were about noise complaints, domestic disputes and fights, she said. None involved drugs because "people were afraid to call," she said.

But soon reports of drug activity rose 300 percent, Private Ball said. Between October 1991 and August 1992, police made more than 50 arrests, and 12 people identified as drug dealers were evicted.

The 108-unit complex houses 350 residents.

It was chosen as the site of the first satellite office because a large percentage of police response time was spent there, Private Ball said. The white-walled office is furnished, carpeted and even has a balcony.

LaVerne Pinkett, assistant manager of the complex, said the program will "make a big difference" in deterring crimes.

The office "is the epitome of what policing is all about," said Councilman C. Vernon Gray, who represents the area. He said lawmakers could provide police with ammunition, cars and other supplies.

L "But in the final analysis, it's not all hardware," he said.

"It's police working with the community and the community working with police."

Gwen Gibson, 32, an eight-year resident and a member of the Stevens Forest Residents Organization, said she thought about

moving when the crimes escalated but stayed because she liked the area.

The satellite office is a plus and sends a strong message to drug dealers, she said. "It lets them know we're serious. . . . So they'd better think twice."

Residents can call the office at 313-7360.

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