State's attorney seeks community involvement McLendon wants to make courts more responsive

February 15, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

After Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon announced a program to give her prosecutors an insight into local concerns about crime, she got an earful from Rex Dalrymple.

The Bryant Woods Neighborhood Association vice president was in Columbia's Village of Wilde Lake yesterday as Ms. McLendon officially unveiled the program, intended to forge links between prosecutors and the community.

If authorities punished vandals by giving them a toothbrush to publicly clean up their graffiti, Mr. Dalrymple said, "we'd eliminate graffiti and eliminate other crimes. The problem is our penalties do not match the crime."

That's the kind of candid feedback Ms. McLendon hopes for through the Community Justice Program, which began yesterday in Wilde Lake and Harper's Choice villages.

Standing outside the county Police Department's satellite office in Rideout Heath in Wilde Lake, Ms. McLendon said the program -- which she had promised in her 1994 campaign -- is a first step to make the courts more responsive to communities such as Mr. Dalrymple's.

"What community justice does is, it says as prosecutors and as police we need to come together with the community and understand when a particular crime, when a particular criminal defendant, is really having a real substantive impact on a community," she told the crowd of more than 50.

Wilde Lake and Harper's Choice were chosen to begin the program because of their diverse demographics and residents who are active in community affairs.

The program will focus primarily on juvenile and drug-related crimes.

K? Prosecutors Janine Rice and Sang Oh will serve as community

liaisons, meeting with residents to hear what crimes concern them.

Residents might be asked to testify in court about the impact of particular crimes on the community, Ms. McLendon said.

Modeled after similar programs in Detroit and other cities, the program is cost-free and can serve as "nuisance abatement" in areas troubled by drug dealers, Ms. McLendon said.

It also can help prosecutors determine the attention they should pay to vandalism and other misdemeanors that often are overshadowed by more serious crimes, she said.

The program complements the Police Department's community policing efforts.

"We're working with the community to solve the problems because we know we can't solve them ourselves," said Maj. Mark L. Paterni. "This cooperation between police and prosecutor will simply magnify our efforts."

James Fitzpatrick, a former Harper's Choice Village Board member serving on the justice program's steering committee, praised the program, but said it needs community participation.

"Will it work?" he asked. "It depends on the residents."

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