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Scared suburbia finds peace of mind in private security Neighborhood patrols: Fear of crime has communities turning to private companies for added protection. Such security firms could be the wave of the future.

April 01, 1996|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

"I'm for it out of necessity," said Mr. Friedman, 40, an ad agency owner. "The deterrent effect has worked, and now that every other neighborhood around us has [patrols], if we wouldn't have it we would be a sitting target."

A small number of Baltimore-area suburban communities have had private patrols for years. The pricey Hampton community near Towson, for example, has had patrols for 14 years, and Fox Chapel in Timonium has had them for at least seven years.

But the heightened interest in the patrols is yet another sign -- with increasing sales of home security systems and gated developments -- that the suburban fear of crime shows no sign of waning.

Still, some communities balk at the cost. Usually, the cost is split among households that choose to contribute, meaning residents of large neighborhoods may pay less than $200 a year while residents of exclusive neighborhoods pay up to $2,000 a year.

Carol Loveless, district manager for Pinkerton Security and Investigative Services, said her company, which patrols in Hampton, has received a rush of inquiries from suburban communities in the past year. But many find they are not prepared to pay the $15- to $35-an-hour cost, she said.

Prompted by tragedy

Mike Widenhouse, president of Evergreen Security and Patrol, said a neighborhood that doesn't want to spend the money now may see it as a worthwhile investment later -- especially if a serious crime touches the neighborhood.

"That's what closes the deals," said Mr. Widenhouse, whose company patrols the Greenspring Valley neighborhoods of Velvet Valley, Velvet Ridge and Valley Heights.

In the Pikesville-Greenspring Valley area, the hiring of patrols was largely prompted by the car thefts and the September 1994 shooting death of Debra Ann Goodwich, 19, in her parents' home in the Stevenson area.

In response, the Stevenson Ridge-Halcyon Improvement Association hired patrols -- and reported a 70 percent drop in crime. Harlan K. Zinn, president of the Velvet Valley Neighborhood Association, said crime in his community dropped more than 84 percent after patrols were hired.

"It was intervention, and now it's intervention and prevention, with the emphasis on prevention," he said.

Although he agreed to go along with his neighbors, the idea never sat well with Mr. Kaminkow, former president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys Association. He eventually moved to a nearby gated community.

"I didn't like a guy sitting in front of my house with a light flashing," he said. "That's annoying. That's not the way to live."

But to Mr. Friedman, it's all worthwhile because more than luxury cars are at stake. "Hey," he said, "I've got little kids."

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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