Satellite police office helps change community

January 11, 1995|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Drug dealers, drunks and loiterers -- at one time regular menaces in the Rideout Heath community -- have become scarce since county police opened a satellite office at the rental development in June, say residents, police and housing officials.

The police office in a townhouse in the 84-home community and the increased police presence "has stopped the element of drug users and pushers coming into Rideout Heath," said Mildred Jones, a community organizer and a 19-year resident of the development in Columbia's Harper's Choice village.

"I don't see 75 percent of the faces I used to see," she said, adding that she used to witness drug activity throughout the day. "They used to come in and hang on the walls and curbs."

The Rideout Heath police satellite station is the county's second office in a residential complex and part of the department's community-oriented policing policy, which is intended to improve relationships between residents and police and to prevent crime. A police satellite office in the Stevens Forest Apartments has been open about two years.

Officers in the Howard County Police Department's Crime Prevention Unit say the Rideout Heath office has helped to improve residents' perception of police and foster better communication, including more willingness to report suspicious activity.

"Before when we came into the neighborhood, there was a negative reaction," said Pfc. Michele Denton. "Now we're a part of the neighborhood instead of coming in to control it."

Ms. Jones agreed that the perception of police as "intruders" has changed. "People always looked at the Police Department as coming in to bust up the neighborhood and leave," she said. "Now they talk to the adults, children and neighbors and show they care for the neighborhood."

Officials from the nonprofit Columbia Housing Corp., which manages Rideout Heath and four other government-assisted housing developments in Harper's Choice and Wilde Lake villages, said the police office has made their job easier. Executive Director Elsie Walters called the office "the pleasant presence."

Columbia Housing Corp. managers said they used to chase drug dealers from one complex, only to have them move to another. But now, with more police cars coming in and out of Rideout Heath and a police office to discourage drug activity there, the message has spread to the housing agency's nearby complexes, they say.

"It's made a tremendous positive impact," Ms. Walters said. "I don't think we could have turned this neighborhood around without having put together a program such as this with the Police Department."

One result of the Rideout Heath police office is that the number of service calls to police from the complex has doubled, from 60 in 1993 to 126 in 1994, said Pfc. Stephen Black of the Crime Prevention Unit. "The number of disorderlies calls have gone up," he said. "People are calling them in before it gets to be a problem."

The number of assaults reported from the complex decreased from nine in the first five months of 1994 to two for the remainder of the year, after the police office opened, Officer Black said.

The police office is on the second floor of the townhouse, a unit donated to the department by Columbia Housing Corp. Police patrolling the area use the office when they fill out reports, make phone calls and eat lunch. "It gets the officers out of the car," Officer Denton said. "They're doing community policing at the same time."

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