Rise in crime spurs residents to action Watch program, closer ties to police considered as options

April 09, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Sobered by a surge in drug crimes, assault and malicious destruction last year, Taneytown residents are looking to forge tighter links with city police and have begun exploring the possibility of an organized neighborhood watch program.

Although serious crime remains relatively rare in the community of about 5,000, the annual crime statistics issued late last month confirm a significant rise in several categories, among them:

* Narcotics violations, which rose to 70 cases from 30 the year before, an increase of 133 percent.

* Assault and battery, which increased to 141 cases last year from 91 in 1994, a rise of 54.9 percent.

* Malicious destruction, which rose 61 percent to 199 incidents from 123 the year before.

Homicides and rapes remain rare in Taneytown, with no homicides and two rapes recorded last year. However, the concern about crime led a group of about 70 citizens to approach Police Chief Mel Diggs in January concerning ways citizens could become involved in crime-fighting efforts.

"They wanted ideas, and we just tried to present several options," said Officer Bill Tyler, a veteran of community policing in Montana before coming to Taneytown. He is advising the citizens' anti-crime group.

The option residents liked most, Officer Tyler said, was Neighborhood Watch, a program designed to get neighbors to look out for each other and immediately report suspicious activity to police.

Dee Wilson, 53, of York Street said Neighborhood Watch means being a good neighbor.

"Our goal is to make better neighbors," he said.

He and Officer Tyler pointed to Karen Wheeler, a former Frederick resident, as a prime mover among members of the informal anti-crime group that has begun pushing for closer ties between the community and police.

"Karen has a lot of good ideas and was, I understand, quite involved in community policing activities in Frederick," Officer Tyler said.

Ms. Wheeler was unavailable for comment, but Mr. Wilson said her leadership in discussions at meetings over the past two months has the group excited about implementing Neighborhood Watch.

"Committee members will soon begin going door to door in the community, passing out literature and seeking to get more and more residents involved in the program," Officer Tyler said.

Taneytown residents continue to fret publicly over problems with juveniles. City police arrested 95 juveniles last year, nearly 38 percent of the overall 253 arrests in 1995.

The 43-year-old manager of a video store who asked that her last name not be used, is typical of those expressing such fears.

"Things are changing," she said. "Some would sooner shoot you than hit you in the mouth."

Other residents, while recognizing the existence of juvenile crime, said it should not be exaggerated.

"Everyone talks about juvenile gangs and problems with teen-agers, but I'm not seeing that," said Diane Daumant, 30, a pharmacist. "I don't feel threatened, even though I leave work at night."

Mr. Wilson said he did not perceive juvenile crime as a major problem in Taneytown.

"Local problems are about the same across the state, across the nation," he said. "The kids aren't outlaws. They're not as bad as some older people think they are."

People tend to see a teen-age boy who wears an earring or has an unusual hairdo, or a girl with black nail polish as problems, but the majority are not, he said.

Local law enforcement officials argue that Taneytown's increasing crime rate is simply a reflection of trends in society.

"The majority of assaults stemmed from domestic disputes," Chief Diggs said. "Unfortunately, that's a problem everywhere."

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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