Weary of crime, Long Reach Village discusses ways to fight it

June 07, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Long Reach Village residents met with law enforcement officials last night and discussed ways to fight back against crime -- mostly vandalism, thefts of vehicles, thefts from vehicles and residential burglaries -- that has plagued their community.

About 60 residents attended a town meeting with officials from the Howard County police and sheriff's departments to learn what they could do to help deter crime and "hate-bias incidents" aimed at racial, ethnic and religious groups.

"These crimes don't just affect the person whose house was spray-painted or whose car window was smashed," county police Officer Steve Black told the gathering at Stonehouse in Long Reach. "It affects the entire community. It drives a wedge into the community itself."

The residents and law enforcement officials discussed setting up a neighborhood watch program throughout the village of about 13,000. Volunteers would serve as liaisons with the police and coordinate block captains and watchers who would monitor for suspicious activities.

"We're limited in manpower. We can't be everywhere," Officer Black said. "We're trying to get you involved so we can work together and put an end to some of this crime."

The meeting was organized largely in response to residents' concerns about vandalism in the Phelps Luck neighborhood, particularly along High Tor Hill. Residents have reported vandalism to vehicles, thefts from vehicles and other crimes of property destruction along that main road. Also, Joan Waclawski, president of the Phelps Luck Elementary School PTA, told the law enforcement officials last night that school property has been vandalized about 10 times in the last year.

In the 17 months from January 1993 to June 1, 140 incidents were reported in the district bounded by High Tor Hill and Phelps Luck and Tamar drives, including 76 reports of destruction of property, 50 of thefts from vehicles and 14 of stolen vehicles or attempts to steal vehicles, according to county police.

Officer Black said the police department receives numerous reports of crime on pathways in Long Reach and other Columbia communities, noting that the open space areas "act as a magnet for juveniles" looking for trouble. But he added that pathways are no more a haven for crime than are streets or parking lots in the community, and that the reports are not a recent phenomenon.

Officer Black recommended using lighting to deter crime, supporting neighbors who have been victims and keeping an eye out for indications that crime may be brewing, such as people who look like they're trying to conceal themselves and vehicles cruising a neighborhood without headlights or making repeated trips. "It doesn't have to be a crime in progress," he said. "People are worried about bothering the police. Bother us. We're here to serve you."

Sgt. Rodney Stem of the sheriff's department said law enforcement officials frequently visit schools countywide to promote tolerance of racial, ethnic and religious groups and to try to reduce "hate-bias incidents," such as the recent splurge of graffiti on pathway underpasses in Long Reach. Youngsters generally learn to express hatred from their parents or groups at school, he said.

"We're very impassioned about this topic," Sergeant Stem said, adding that all incidents should be reported. "We take it very seriously."

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