Light rail's reputation takes dive in Arundel

June 20, 1994|By John River | John River,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Gregory P. Kane and Consella A. Lee contributed to this report.

When light rail came to Anne Arundel County last year, there were high expectations for the commuter line linking the county to points north.

Now some residents near light rail stops have soured on the idea. They say the trains bring outsiders who commit crimes in their community. In Linthicum, a community association that voted for light rail service last year now wants its station closed.

Kun Lee, owner of Champion Liquors in the Cromwell Field shopping center, said he expected business to increase when the Cromwell Station light rail stop opened. Instead, he said, he had to build a 6-inch platform to raise his sales counter, giving him a better view of potential shoplifters.

He said many of his elderly customers are afraid and have gone elsewhere to shop.

"They said, 'It's always danger

ous, I don't want to come back to the shopping center,' " he said.

Crime and light rail have become the county's hottest political issues this year. Some Republican hopefuls have seized upon the issue, going so far as to call for an effort to protect the county's borders.

Though police say crime in neighborhoods surrounding the light rail stops has increased since service began, most incidents in

volve petty thefts, shoplifting and stolen bicycles, though there have been a few well-publicized assaults.

Police also say their statistics are inconclusive as to whether light rail is to blame, or whether Baltimore residents intent on commiting crimes ride the trains into the county.

All that can be said about the highly publicized April 23 stabbing of a woman at the North Linthicum stop is that it happened as she

waited for a train.

At the line's northern end, Baltimore County police say they have witnessed increases in shoplifting, especially from the Yorkridge Shopping Center, and have had a problem with car theft at the Timonium station.

But there's been no great public outcry.

"We haven't had that kind of pressure here," said E. Jay Miller, a police spokesman.

0$ In Anne Arundel, the pressure is

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coming from all sides.

Residents excoriated state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, a light rail supporter, during a raucous May 11 meeting of the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association.

That meeting, attended by several Republican lawmakers, included the association's vote to close the station. Local Democratic politicians were not present and complained they were not invited.

County Council Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks, who recently switched to the Republican party in anticipation of a possible run against Mr. Wagner, has used the issue to hammer the Ferndale Democrat.

"I think clearly Senator Wagner had the opportunity in the last session to do something [about light rail crime], and he did nothing," said Mr. Middlebrooks, whose councilmanic district includes parts of Glen Burnie, Old Mill and Severn.

'Conduit for crime'

Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack Sr. wrote Gov. William Donald Schaefer asking him to issue an executive order closing the Linthicum station.

"I have worked this county as a state trooper for 13 years, and currently as its sheriff, so I know what these people are saying is true," Sheriff Pepersack wrote. "The light rail has become a 'conduit for crime' into our county."

In a fund-raising letter written before the light rail issue erupted, Del. John G. Gary wrote, "We must make protecting our borders against the invasion of violent crime from Baltimore and Prince George's County a top priority.

"The rampant crime in these jurisdictions is poised at our county boundaries," he said. "If I am elected county executive, we will do whatever is necessary to secure our borders and protect our citizens."

When framed in such language, some believe the controversy takes on troubling racial overtones.

But those calling for action say the issue has nothing to do with race. They simply want greater police enforcement.

"I don't think there is any one group involved," Mr. Middlebrooks said. The only common denominator, he said, "is like everywhere, it's a lot of teen-agers."

But Mr. Wagner said Republicans could cynically profit by "us vs. them" rhetoric.

"Historically the black vote goes to the Democrats," Mr. Wagner said. "So maybe [Mr. Middlebrooks] has written them off already, and he's trying to play on the emotions of Republicans and conservative Democrats."

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that crime is a problem near the train stations and that something must be done.

"There obviously has been an influx of people coming from Baltimore, from the north end of the line, and joy riding down here," Mr. Wagner said.

Mr. Middlebrooks said he supports closing stations only as a last resort. Mr. Wagner said it is unrealistic to talk about closing stations. He has formed a committee comprising local resident groups, the Mass Transit Administration and county police to address the problem.

Crime statistics

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