Mikulski stops by Edgewood to hear residents' views on crime prevention

February 20, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

On a whirlwind visit to Edgewood Wednesday, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski toured two community policing programs and talked to residents, police and community leaders about their crime-prevention efforts.

She stopped by a sparsely furnished storefront office in Edgewater Village Shopping Center on U.S. 40 and a modest townhouse community center in the Meadowood development, greeting strangers like friends and nodding enthusiastically.

everybody, . . . this is so innovative. . . . What a great idea," said the Maryland Democrat before sitting down to a serious discussion with those involved in the policing centers.

Ms. Mikulski listened to stories about open-air drug dealing and the violence and fear that permeated the area before the programs, which are financed through federal grants, opened about two years ago.

Then she heard the good news: Calls for police assistance have dropped, neighbors sit on porches in warm weather and children areforming bonds with police officers.

"A key part of the crime prevention has been a better relationship with the sheriff's deputies on patrol," said William Kinne, president of Neighbors Involved in the Community of Edgewood (NICE), an organization that strives to improve the area.

The involvement has worked both ways.

"We realized there aren't just bad people in the neighborhoods," said Lt. Rick Williams of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, who patrols the area and often stops by the U.S. 40 center.

The Sheriff's Office and the state police have advised Edgewood neighborhood groups on crime-prevention techniques and encourage their cooperation in reporting suspicious activity.

They also started a foot patrol program to increase visibility.

Children were soon greeting the officers with "Hi, Mr. Paul" and "Hi, Mr. Stony."

"I believe in the cop on the corner as a deterrent," Ms. Mikulski said. "People should think of the police as defenders of good, not just as warriors against evil."

Mikulski, who was meeting with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno later that day in Baltimore to discuss the Clinton anti-crime bill moving through Congress, also heard pleas for more funding.

"I realize money is not a panacea," said Edgewood resident Lawrence Worthington, who stressed the need for financial support of recreation programs to keep young people busy.

"Budgets are tight at every level of government," Ms. Mikulski said. "But there should be good-guy bonuses when the county applies for a grant.

"Sweat equity should count as part of matching funds."

Ms. Mikulski was referring to the stipulation that counties must match some community policing grants with their own money.

"We should give help to people who are helping themselves," Ms. Mikulski said, adding that she was going to pass on the message to Ms. Reno. "We have to make up our minds that crime will decrease and drugs will decrease," she said.

The residents of Meadowood Townhouses off Hanson Road near Route 24 couldn't agree more.

"I didn't realize that drugs were so prevalent here," said Diane Hall, vice president of NICE.

Detective D. J. Galbraith of the Sheriff's Office told Ms. Mikulski about his undercover duties a few years ago in Meadowood. "I couldn't even pull into the neighborhood before people were flagging me down to sell drugs."

The office managers of the Jessup-based National Housing Partnership, which manages Meadowood, put in a plea to police.

"We had serious, serious problems," agreed Jeannie Rhodes, the NHP office manager at Meadowood.

The result -- which grew out of the Maryland Project, a Harford County and state-funded program begun in early 1991 to help communities identify social problems and develop strategies to solve them -- was the on-site, townhouse policing center.

Tenant screening and an active community association have also helped.

Mr. Galbraith still remembers the first signs of success. "We were making a drug bust and people cheered when we took down the doors."

Although gains have been made, there are still problems, particularly with drugs, residents said.

"I'm not going to throw up my hands," Mr. Worthington said. "We'll continue to fight it."

Another concern shared with Ms. Mikulski was the possibility that more Section 8 housing would be coming into Edgewood.

More than a third of all subsidized housing in Harford County -- about 1,000 units -- is concentrated in the Edgewood area, according to the Harford County Housing Agency.

Tenants who receive Section 8 assistance pay about 30 percent of their monthly income for rent, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development pays the rest.

"People look down on Edgewood," said Mr. Worthington. "We're like little America [with different ethnic groups], but we're going to survive."

Ms. Mikulski assured the residents that she would find out whether more Section 8 housing was destined for Harford.

She said her own philosophy is: "Section 8 is a tool to be on the way to a better life, not to continue a way of life."

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