'Nuisance-type' crimes on the rise, police say

September 12, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Columbia leaders are planning a citywide forum on ways to battle crime.

While the number of violent crimes has remained relatively low, "nuisance-type" incidents such as vandalism, petty theft and auto theft are on the rise, Police Chief James Robey told the Columbia Council's newly formed Public Safety Committee at a recent work session in Dorsey's Search village.

"Columbia has a crime problem because of one word -- people," said Mr. Robey, contrasting today's 27-year-old city of 80,000 to the fledgling community he patrolled as an officer in the 1970s.

Police officers told council members and Dorsey's Search representatives that many crimes in Columbia, especially auto theft and destruction of property, are being committed by teen-agers from inside and outside the county.

"I will tell you it's our children. They're at risk of getting caught up," Maj. Mark L. Paterni, deputy police chief, said.

The Police Department is working on a computer program that will break down crime along the approximate boundaries of Columbia villages and neighborhoods. The council's Public Safety Committee plans to use the statistics at a town meeting to inform residents of the nature of the crimes, where incidents tend to occur and ways they can participate with police to reduce the problem, Councilman Gary Glisan said.

A firm date has not yet been set for the forum.

"There are a number of neighborhoods where the graffiti and public nuisance-type stuff is causing the problem," Mr. Glisan said.

Councilwoman Evelyn Richardson of Dorsey's Search, leader of the committee, said many Columbia residents believe crime is a problem only in areas outside their own. "We want, through the town meeting, to get people to realize that it is their problem," she said.

She said the committee wants to involve teen-agers in activities such as cleaning up vandalism and neighborhood watch programs.

Suzan Song, Dorsey's Search village board's teen-age representative, said she believes teen-agers lack other things to do.

"There aren't many fun places to go around here. They don't want to go to the mall again, the movies again," said Suzan, 16, a junior at Centennial High School.

She said a center with batting cages, miniature golf and other activities probably would keep some kids off the streets. The Columbia Association has proposed such a "fun center," but neighborhoods have opposed the idea.

She also said that expanding community service programs for teen-agers could provide a productive outlet and that penalties for acts such as vandalism should be stricter.

Sgt. Karen A. Burnett, who heads the Police Department's crime prevention unit, agrees that more programs for children would help reduce crime.

"We come home, we're tired, we stay in the house," she said. "They stay out."

Vandalism has been so prevalent in Dorsey's Search this year that the village staff has started listing crimes, from egged houses to assaults, by street in its newsletter.

Several council members said that any crime -- major or minor -- should not be tolerated. Referring to a recent shooting at Hannibal Grove, a Wilde Lake village complex that has been investigated for drug activity, Councilwoman Suzanne Waller of Town Center said, "I want it stopped. I want the drugs out, arrests made. I want the neighborhood to be restored to be a safe place."

Police said crime won't be eliminated, but can be reduced with an increased police presence and involvement and cooperation from communities. For instance, crime has decreased at the Stevens Forest Apartments, which police say once had a thriving open-air drug market, since the department set up a satellite office there and residents began communicating with officers.

"Once people stand together and show they have a common goal, it makes it hard for the criminal," said Capt. Richard Hall, the Southern District commander.

Several council members asked whether crime is a problem on (( Columbia's bike paths, saying many residents have that perception. Police responded that isolated incidents have occurred, but that crime is no more likely to happen on the paths than on any Columbia street.

L However, they cautioned that path users to use common sense.

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