Patrols Reduce Drug Dealing

`Zero Tolerance' In Long Reach Works, Police Say

April 23, 1997|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

Intensive police patrols in Columbia's Long Reach village have driven a bevy of drug dealers from their former marketplace along Tamar Drive.

Now Howard County police are wondering where they have gone.

The "zero tolerance" program -- which gets its name from a New York City approach to law enforcement, but also grew out of the success of Howard County police efforts in Oakland Mills village last year -- puts police officers on the streets four nights a week and empowers them to make arrests for the smallest offense.

The results, says Capt. Richard Hall, who is in charge of the program, have been profound. "Now, people who buy and sell drugs know that this is not a place where they can come and feel welcome," he says.

John Snyder has lived in Long Reach for nine years and says there is a perceptible difference on the streets of the east Columbia village in the four months since the program began.

"Before this program started, crack and heroin were being sold right on the street in Long Reach," he says. "You could see the dealers out there, and it was not hard to to make connections and get drugs on the street."

Now, Snyder says, one can drive along Tamar Drive and not see "10 or more young men with their pit bulls just standing idly by. The police have really cracked down."

However, many residents fear that Columbia's many bike and footpaths, which snake through most of the original villages, may be the new hiding place for the crime that used to be highly visible.

Hall says that while there are many areas along village footpaths just right for covert drug selling, police do not know whether crime activity has moved from the street corner to the footpath.

For that matter, police aren't really sure where the drug activity is going since the problem in Long Reach cleared up.

"We haven't seen a dramatic increase in other areas [in Columbia], so we're not sure where the drug dealers are going," Hall says. "We have to be on the lookout for where they're going now."

Plainclothes officers

Since January, five plainclothes police officers have been patrolling the streets along Tamar Drive four nights a week, arresting lawbreakers for minor offenses such as trespassing, disorderly conduct and small-time drug dealing.

The vice and narcotics officers have made 64 arrests since the program began, including a major operation in early March in which 15 people were arrested and charged with drug and weapons violations.

Since the program's inception, there has been one robbery in Long Reach -- compared with five during the same period last year.

County police hope to get Long Reach village designated as one of 36 crime "hot spots" in Maryland -- a designation that would bring a federal grant of between $35,000 and $200,000. The money would be used to install better street lighting throughout the village and for other crime-prevention programs.

If Long Reach were selected, police officials could receive federal and state funds, and state troopers would help county police patrol the area.

Officers who work the "zero tolerance" detail work independently of regular patrol officers. They do not respond to emergency calls. Though dressed in plainclothes, the officers do not hide their identity -- they walk around and talk to as many people as they can.

Howard County's "zero tolerance" detail is patterned after the New York City program, which began in 1994 under the guidance of New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and his police commissioner, William Bratton.

Their theory is that the rate of violent crimes such as murder could be reduced by clamping down on lesser crimes like graffiti, panhandling and begging.

Anyone who breaks the law gets ticketed.

Less crime

Under this program, New York City saw its crime statistics dip to the lowest levels in almost 30 years.

The Long Reach detail grew out of a similar Howard County program last summer in the area around the Oakland Mills Village Center, also in east Columbia. County police stepped up patrols as part of a Robbery Suppression Program and were successful in stemming an increase in street crime.

While many Long Reach residents fear crime is endemic to their community -- in part because of the concentration of low-rent housing subsidized by the federal Section 8 program -- Hall says drugs are all over Howard County.

"What people see is only the most visible side of the drug dealing," Hall says. "They don't see the drug dealer who may live in the $300,000 house in the western part of the county who's bringing marijuana into the county by the bale."

The "zero tolerance" detail will continue into the summer, Hall says, though he declined to give specifics.

In addition, Long Reach residents hope that the renovation of their village center -- scheduled to begin in earnest next month and be completed before the end of year -- will help alleviate the area's crime problem.

The renovations will include new fronts for the 13 retail stores, more spacious common areas and better lighting on the parking lots.

Feel safer

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