Residents fear crime in homes

April 14, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

Most Howard County residents say the county is one of the safest places in the state, but nearly a third are concerned about becoming a victim of violence in their own home or when going out shopping or to a movie.

That's according to a survey conducted by the Mediation and TC Conflict Resolution Center at Howard Community College and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

The telephone survey released today questioned a random sample of 129 men and 201 women about violence, guns and ways to resolve conflicts. The survey was the first of its kind by the 2-year-old Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center.

The survey was part of the center's effort to help curb violence in and around Howard County.

"We don't feel like we can solve the whole issue of violence but we do feel we can have an impact," said Jean Toomer, co-chairwoman of the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center.

The survey showed that:

* Two-thirds of the respondents agreed with the statement, "Howard County is one of the safest places to live in Maryland."

* Two-thirds thought that stricter gun control laws would reduce violence, and 79 percent agreed that keeping a gun in the home is more likely to harm someone who lives there than an intruder.

* 46 percent agreed that it is acceptable for a teen-ager to hit back and 30 percent agreed that hitting back is acceptable for an adult.

* 78 percent of the respondents said they believe that witnessing violence in the home could cause people to become violent.

* 30 percent said they were frequently concerned about being a victim of violence in their homes, while 31 percent said they were frequently concerned about being a victim of violence in Howard County.

The survey did not ask questions about domestic violence. But Ms. Toomer said the number worried about violence in their own homes suggests a significant concern about domestic violence.

Citing county police statistics, Ms. Toomer stated in the report that county residents make more than 1,000 domestic violence calls each year. In addition, the county had the state's second highest increase -- 188 percent -- in requests for protection from domestic violence, according to the study.

"This just confirms what I've been saying all along," said Stephanie Sites, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County. "Domestic violence is a problem in this county. People in the county think it's a problem."

The concern about safety in the home coincides with what the report called "recent surveys of Americans" showing that 38 percent nationally do not feel safe in their own homes. The general fear of being of victim of crime was 57 percent among Americans living in suburbs and 59 percent among city residents, according to surveys cited in the report.

Most of those surveyed for the Howard County study, about 89 percent, agreed that violence frequently occurs because people do not know other ways to resolve conflict. More than half of the respondents, 53 percent, said that a good way to handle a conflict is to avoid the other person.

"Slamming doors. Leaving rooms. That's so typical of our society," Ms. Toomer said. "A lot of it has to do with people not knowing how to deal with conflict."

Ms. Toomer and others at the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center said they hope that this and future surveys will help people become aware of the resources available through the center on how to handle conflicts.

"We want people to be able to go to their neighbors and work out conflicts," Ms. Toomer said.

"A lot of times people don't have those skills."

Many of those who responded to the survey had a positive view about learning to resolve their conflicts, whether with training or through mediation.

Ninety percent of the respondents, for example, said that a neutral party could help solve a conflict, and 95 percent said that teaching people to deal with anger would reduce violence.

"I think what it indicates is, in suburban communities, there is concern about people getting along . . . about making society a little less violent," said Andrea Gielen, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins who worked as a consultant for the study.

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