Residents confer with top law-enforcement on fighting crime

October 16, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

About 250 Harford County residents passed up the immediate reward of a glorious fall day yesterday to invest in the prospect of an even brighter future -- one without relentless crime in their communities.

They banked their time in "Communities That Care," a half-day summit inspired by County Executive Eileen Rehrmann that brought together representatives from law enforcement, government, homeowner associations, churches, PTAs and recreation councils to discuss crime prevention in Harford County.

Probably the most specific advice to the residents came from FBI Special Agent Joseph A. Harpold, a national specialist on community policing who teaches the subject at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.

Mr. Harpold, who led one of the three workshops at the summit, likened community policing to "doctoring," where a community's health care is the major objective of law enforcement.

Like a family physician, he said, the police should have a personal relationship with the citizen, get to know his propensity for illness and learn his family background.

"And just like in the ideal doctor-patient relationship, you don't always blame the doctor, because you have responsibility for your health, too."

Mr. Harpold said he got involved in community policing in 1991 when the FBI made violent crime one of its top priorities and assigned 350 agents to task forces in communities across the country.

"You are embarking on your first step," he told the audience, "and your first problems will be communication and cooperation." He told the citizens their first assignment would be to break down "anonymity," the enemy of healthy communities.

Many of the citizens who gathered at Harford Community College in Bel Air for the countywide event represented little more than their immediate subdivisions or rural crossroads.

They came from areas as densely populated as Edgewood and Abingdon as well as from the northern communities of Pylesville, Street and Whiteford. Some of them had never been leaders of anything beyond a neighborhood cleanup or a car-pool.

But they shared one thing -- they wanted to stop the advance of crime in their communities. And they were willing to put their heads together for the beginning a grass-roots effort that the county executive hopes will spread into minisummits on crime in individual neighborhoods throughout the county.

"Today is the beginning of not sitting back, of saying that we are indeed communities that care," said Mrs. Rehrmann as she introduced a roster of heavy hitters from the state and federal ranks of community crime fighting.

Other participants included Maryland's U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Reginald L. Robinson.

Mrs. Battaglia told the participants that in all of her travels she has learned that what people most fear in their communities is "violence against their person" and that fear has "paralyzed" many of them.

"But it is you," she told the group, "who will be the bridge to bring us over from fear and paralysis to hope and action."

Mr. Robinson continued the pep talk. As deputy to Attorney General Janet Reno, he has focused attention on anti-violence initiatives. He urged participants to look for "opportunity" that might lie hidden in potentially dangerous situations.

"We hear all the time that our nation faces a crisis, particularly as it relates to youths," he said. "Crisis clearly conjures up an image of danger. But it also conjures up a vision of opportunity."

He urged them to be broad-minded and to "work across professional and geographic boundary lines."

During a second workshop, citizens broke into smaller groups according to seven or eight major communities in the county and brainstormed about concerns in their neighborhoods. As a group, each agreed on the key "threats" to their community's health and then suggested potential cures.

While the list of symptoms from the many neighborhoods differed, the cures for the illnesses were much the same: more communication among neighbors, more parental involvement in children's activities, a place for young people to go and things for them to do, and more police presence.

At the end of the session, many of the participants agreed to gather again in a month for meetings in their various communities, where the work will continue.

As further incentive for her newfound community-based planners, Mrs. Rehrmann used the summit setting to announce several grants totaling $27,000 to community groups that already have begun localized efforts at crime prevention.

Major awards went to the Bel Air High School PTSA for a program targeting parents of at-risk children, the Bel Air United Methodist Church for an acting troupe that does drug education and St. James AME Church in Havre de Grace for a mentoring program.

Other recipients were St. Patrick's Church in Havre de Grace for an after-school fine arts class, and the Tranquility Townhomes Community Council in Havre de Grace for a program for middle- and high-school students.

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