Residents praise efforts of police Crime has declined because of closer ties to neighbors, they say

January 02, 1996|By ALISA SAMUELS | ALISA SAMUELS,SUN STAFF

The loitering, unruly juveniles and other nuisances had gotten so bad in the Jeffers Glen townhouse community in east Columbia that some residents were afraid to let their children go out alone. They then sought help attempts to forge closer links between residents and police officers.

After more than a year of increased foot patrols and building relationships with residents in the Jeffers Hill neighborhood, the corporal's efforts appear to have paid off.

Jeffers Glen residents say their townhouse community is less noisy. They are more willing to call police. And Corporal Newnan is working on duplicating the project in Greenleaf, another community in Owen Brown village.

"It goes back to the willingness of the people who live there," said Corporal Newnan, who now patrols east Columbia on a bicycle in another facet of community-oriented policing. "I guess I was the catalyst."

The Howard County police don't have data to show the direct impact of the project on the rate of crime in the Jeffers Glen area, but they say an increase in the number of 911 calls from the area is a good indicator that the project has been a success.

"It's trying to go back to the old style of policing when the community knew the police well enough that they would call for anything," said Sgt. Karen Burnett, the Howard department's crime prevention supervisor.

In general, community-oriented policing is intended to get police officers out of their cruisers and out walking the beat -- in order to establish a visible presence in a community.

In Howard County, such efforts include:

* The county's first satellite police office is in the 108-unit Stevens Forest Apartments in Columbia's Village of Oakland Mills. The office, which opened in April 1993, gives police a site to write reports, make follow-up telephone calls and conduct interviews -- though they do not staff the office 24 hours a day.

* A second satellite police office opened in June 1994 in an 84-townhouse community in Rideout Heath in west Columbia's Wilde Lake village. The nonprofit Columbia Housing Corp., which owns 500 units in eight developments in Columbia and Ellicott City, donated space for the office.

* "Problem-oriented Policing" -- or POP -- projects, which send officers into communities in response to a specific set of complaints for a specific time period, such as the Jeffers Glen situation.

* Neighborhood crime watch groups, police bicycle patrols and police liaisons, residents who represent communities in working with the police.

The key to all this, police officials say, is a high-profile presence in communities.

In the area around Stevens Forest Apartments, for example, Officer Thomas Claxton works the beat and is a highly visible bicycle patrol officer.

"It's just that omnipresent effect," Officer Claxton said. "You just get a lot of police cars in and out of the community which gives people a certain sense of protection."

George Davis, a retired probation officer who lives next door to the Stevens Forest satellite office, said that before police were so visible, his neighborhood was beset by brazen drug dealers.

"At night you could count the cars coming through here," recalled Mr. Davis, 63. Today, the drug dealers and users are gone, he said. "Things are quiet."

In Jeffers Hill, the Jeffers Glen townhouse residents reached out for a more visible police presence after growing frustrated with loud music, disorderly conduct and juveniles intimidating younger children. "The community recognized they had a problem and they wanted to be apart of the solution," Sergeant Burnett said.

Police responded with the POP project, which sent Corporal Newnan there until last May.

Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 25 of last year, police say, they received 202 service calls from residents on Footed Ridge and Watchlight Court, the two streets in Jeffers Glen that were the focus of the project. That's roughly 10 percent higher than the year before, police say.

The project "has empowered us to pick up the phone," said June Doris Cofield, a Jeffers Glen resident who helped start a crime block watch program in 1993. "For myself and residents, we know we feel safer."

Sergeant Burnett said police consider it a success when people are willing to call with complaints about crimes or suspicious circumstances in their neighborhoods.

Corporal Newnan "had to get people comfortable enough to trust him" and tell him what their concerns were, Sergeant Burnett said. "Police want you to call. You're not being a nuisance."

That cooperative effort was demonstrated when several neighbors called police to report gunfire, which turned out to be a murder-suicide in their community on Dec. 16.

Police said Warren Francis Riggs Jr., 35, used a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun fatally shoot Susan O'Neill, 29, a former neighbor who had filed a stalking complaint against him.

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