Anne Arundel County police have put extra officers on the streets of Severna Park and transferred all the Eastern District's walking and bicycle patrols to the community in response to a recent rash of armed robberies, "smash and grab" robberies and burglaries.
In addition, daytime detectives are disguising themselves in postal service uniforms, as UPS workers or driving through the community in trucks borrowed from the county Public Works Department, according to Capt. Thomas Shanahan, Eastern District commander.
"Severna Park does have a serious crime problem," Captain Shanahan told the Greater Severna Park Council Tuesday night. Until I fix this problem, I'll do whatever you ask me that's legal."
The police don't have any easy answers, he said. But he promised they would catch the criminals.
"All this came on us at one time, and we'll catch people and it will go away all at once," he said.
While the recent crime wave is unprecedented and worrisome, Severna Park still is a safe place, the captain added. Even the area's traffic snarls work against criminals; one man who robbed a store this month was captured when he got stuck in traffic on Route 2.
Four times between Aug. 24 and Sept. 2, robbers wearing masks in the likenesses of former presidents held up restaurants and a bank in Severna Park and Arnold.
In the Severna Park restaurant robberies, a lone bandit wore a mask either of Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan. Two men -- one posing as Mr. Nixon, the other as Mr. Reagan -- held up a First National Bank Branch in Arnold.
Severna Park merchants have been shaken not only by the string of holdups but by the murder Aug. 25 of Charles H. Willis, 21, who was gunned down in a Dunkin' Donuts shop on Ritchie Highway in a dispute over a dime-store pen.
In addition, dozens of businesses at Park Plaza and elsewhere have been victimized by "smash and grab" burglaries, and a cat burglar has been preying on homes in Round Bay.
Council members at the meeting Tuesday said they were frightened, but ready to help police.
The council and Champion Realty in Severna Park each donated $600 to the police to buy two more bicycles for local patrols. Several communities within the council donated smaller amounts for crime prevention.
The local Chamber of Commerce is considering hiring off-duty police officers to guard shopping centers. Residents are organizing community crime watch programs in neighborhoods that don't already have them.
Captain Shanahan said residents can help the police by simply exercising basic caution.
For example, don't leave an expensive bike on your front lawn overnight or walk alone on the B&A trail or in remote areas after dusk. Don't leave a car phone in plain sight on the seat if you park in a public garage. Do leave your house lights on all night or buy motion-activated spot lights for the yard, he said.
For those who aren't sure if their homes are safe, police are offering free security surveys.
He also asked residents to be alert to anything unusual in their communities, from a van that's not usually there to a loitering stranger. Write down tag numbers, he said. You may never use the information, but it could help solve a crime.
Despite the publicity surrounding the robbers who wear presidential masks and the spate of business burglaries, Captain Shanahan said that his biggest priority -- and fear -- is the cat burglar in Round Bay.
Unlike most burglars who prefer empty houses, this one chooses to break into homes while people are sleeping, the captain noted. And while no one has been hurt yet, police fear the crimes could escalate.
Captain Shanahan said the cat burglar is a brazen sort who carefully plans his crimes. "He probably gets a thrill from violating people's privacy," the captain said.
So what do you do if one of these criminals confronts you, the members asked.
If your business is broken into at night, remember that chasing a criminal or confronting one is dangerous, Captain Shanahan said. "We tell people not to follow them, but people are so fed up they have started chasing criminals."
During a daytime robbery, do what the criminal tells you -- but try to get his tag number after he leaves, the captain said.
At home, make noise and call the police. The response time for emergency calls in Severna Park is good, Captain Shanahan said. Recently, a burglar who broke into a home was cuffed and in a police car within five minutes after the 911 call.
To request a free home security survey, call 222-6145.