Pioneer City has shown communities can revive

October 05, 1997|By Capt. Timothy R. Bowman

ON AUG. 9, I drove down Pioneer Drive at about 7 p.m. and heard the unmistakable sounds of a DJ playing the music today's young people love, in the way they love to hear it: Loud, with deep, pulsating bass.

It was my introduction to "Pioneer's Night Out." This was a night designated by Pioneers in Action, a group dedicated to the improvement of the community.

I saw about 100 teen-agers, listening to the music or dancing, or running after one another the way children do. Adults were in and about, ready to keep order and generally to do what adults are supposed to do.

This type of activity in a predominantly African-American area that is reputed to suffer great distress from criminal activity can lead one to be apprehensive. These children were in the prime age for delinquency, and were listening to loud music, which has been thought to cause children to act foolishly.

There was none of that here. At dusk, children and adults stood next to the street with lighted candles and participated in prayer and song.

On this day, and in truth on most days in the three working-class areas that have become known as Pioneer City, men and women, boys and girls, go about their lives in the same manner as their counterparts anywhere in Anne Arundel County.

Yet because of difficulties that have arisen through a combination of the community's location, community design flaws, economic deprivation and social inadequacies -- including a condominium area that has trouble taking decisive action against the criminal element -- the population has become vulnerable to criminal activity, including drugs.

As commander of the police district that encompasses Pioneer City, I have been deeply involved in attempts to suppress criminal activity. I have had the privilege of working with concerned men and women who are willing to sacrifice their time in order that community members, especially children, can live and prosper in a safe environment.

Pioneers in Action is one of the groups in the forefront of that effort, but is not the only group. People on the Move is another organization that works to provide children with a safe and civil place to learn and grow. Spirituality finds voice in pastors who work with small groups in houses or at services at Van Bokkelen Elementary.

Discovering the strength that exists in Pioneer City makes one wonder how the community could gain a reputation for criminal activity. Most "reputations" are the product of some fact, some fancy, some misunderstanding and some failure to correct misinformation.

Self-fulfilling reputations

Reputations, however, can also become self-fulfilling prophecies. So it was, to some degree, with Pioneer City. Crime came where crime was expected.

Nonetheless, in recent years, change has occurred. One of the three working-class communities became the target to test some of the theories of community policing. The rental manager of the target community formed a close working relationship with the police assigned to the area. Aggressive management and arrest procedures were instigated, along with management-led social activities supported by police.

The result over a three-year period showed that the crime rate stabilized to a rate less than the county's as a whole. This was accomplished as police brutality complaints dropped to zero.

The lessons learned in terms of management and police practices are now being applied to adjoining communities. We are hopeful that those communities will experience the same dramatic effect.

Pioneer City is a combination of centrally managed rental properties (two communities) and a condominium community which has some owner-occupied units, but is mostly investor-owned and individually managed, with slightly more than 1,000 housing units in the entire area.

Each community has its own unique flavor, which can cause government some consternation when trying to address the "big picture." Yet by identifying and working with the individual groups, Anne Arundel County seems to have turned this difficulty into a strength.

With an investment of a few thousand dollars, in cash or services to community groups like Pioneers in Action or People on the Move, citizens who are anxious to improve their community are given a small measure of support. That is multiplied by the energy and commitment of volunteers and ends in tangible benefits to many members of the community, especially children.

The recent recognition of the Pioneer City area by the state through the "Hot Spots" grants can only add fuel to a fire that has been smoldering for some time.

That is, the fire of reclamation. The idea that a working-class, diverse community need not allow itself to spiral down into the pit of drugs and violence has taken hold. It is difficult to stop the momentum of a population which has decided to improve its lot. One cannot but be optimistic about the future of Pioneer City. Perhaps the next time the candles are lit, they will stretch from one end of the community to the other, as is the goal of at least one community member.

The writer is commander of the Anne Arundel County Police Department's Western District.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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