Light rail patrols to cost Balto. Co. Residents irked as Md. to bill for a third of tab for county's officers

April 08, 1997|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County taxpayers soon will be picking up part of the tab for extra police patrols around the five county light rail stations -- a popular route, police say, for thieves targeting homes and shopping centers in Lutherville and Timonium.

Many county residents who fought the location of the line years ago object to financing hundreds of thousands of dollars in added security now.

"I personally feel that the [Mass Transit Administration] is responsible for the cost of this," said Eric Rockel, president of the Lutherville Community Association. "Why should we pay for it when we didn't want it here in the first place?"

Using county police to supplement MTA patrol officers was meant as a temporary solution to the public outcry over rising crime around the light rail stations.

Since mid-1994, the state has paid the overtime for county officers who volunteered to patrol the stations, said police spokesman Bill Toohey.

But now, the state can't afford to keep paying the whole tab for county police coverage, said MTA spokesman Anthony Brown.

Although a final agreement between the MTA and county police has yet to be worked out, county officials say it would cost about $900,000 a year for four officers to work the 18 hours daily that the stations are open. The county would pay a third of that.

The MTA is negotiating a similar deal with Anne Arundel County police.

"I don't like having to pay for this," said Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who met last week with Secretary of Transportation David L. Winstead to express his concerns about crime around the stations.

"But I would rather have the county police provide the security for this, because the county police will do a better job. This way, we are in control of our own destiny. When county officers began their patrols three years ago, crime around the stations went down."

Residents have complained for years about the rising number of thefts and burglaries around the Lutherville, Timonium Business Park and Deereco Road stops. But they have become especially bitter about paying for more police coverage for the stations -- which some never wanted in their neighborhoods.

Bob Vaughan, owner of Twin Gates Bed and Breakfast, which is three blocks from the Lutherville stop, said some guests have been intimidated by youths running from the woods to the station as the train pulls up.

"The county should not have to pay for the extra security," he said. "It should be the responsibility of the state to make sure that riders are protected."

Their concerns are echoed by County Council members.

Light rail "has done more harm than good in the corridor," Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Republican who represents the Towson and Lutherville areas, said during a recent council meeting. "We have really messed up the neighborhood. We're still letting people come out from the city and break into sheds, steal bicycles and go back."

Crime surged in parking lots and shopping centers around some light rail stops and on some trains after the stations opened in April 1992. The MTA police force was understaffed, and public outcry led the MTA to begin hiring off-duty county officers on a regular basis in July 1994.

The light rail line is being extended to Hunt Valley.

"Our customers really appreciate the local police presence," Brown said. "But unfortunately, we cannot afford to keep paying the whole amount for it. Our primary concern is the safety of our customers. Making the trains safe is a cooperative effort."

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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