Robey assures Harper's Choice that crime is not increasing Police chief touts robbery-suppression effort

September 26, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey has assured residents of Harper's Choice village that crime is not increasing, despite what many residents believe.

At a meeting Wednesday night of 70 residents at Kahler House in the Harper's Choice Village Center, Robey reported 41 arrests in the past two months since launching a robbery-suppression program in that community and in Wilde Lake Village Center.

The program, Robey said, will move to other areas of the county in the near future.

He urged residents to call police when they see something suspicious.

"You've got to convey information to us," Robey said. "You know who looks suspicious in your neighborhood and who doesn't belong. Pick up the phone and call us. That's the only way we'll catch them."

Most residents said they welcomed the police presence. But one person was critical, saying he felt he had been harassed as a black male.

"We all don't rob," said Bryant Johnson, who has lived in the area for six years. "All the black guys I know are being harassed by the police around here."

Johnson told the group that he had been accosted by a white police officer while walking his dog late one night along paths in the Harper's Choice village.

After Johnson abruptly left the meeting, other residents and Columbia Association leaders rebutted his remarks. They said complaints about police arise from people who loiter in grassy areas, near tot lots and outside stores.

"I encourage the police to keep doing what they're doing because I want to feel safe walking through the village center," said Dorris Brashears, who has lived in the community since the late 1960s. In the past few years, residents said, they have noticed increasing numbers of people loitering around the 25-year-old village center and groups of youths attempting to buy alcohol at Harper's Choice Liquors.

Many said they hope a $3.5 million renovation of the old village center -- which is expected to be finished by next year -- will deter crime. The village center will include a 55,000-square-foot Safeway, which will replace Valu Food grocery store, increased lighting and more accessible parking.

"As Columbia has grown, it has become a city," said Wayne A. Christmann, who manages village centers for Rouse. "It's not a village anymore, and that has brought all the problems that go along with a city with it."

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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