Union Bridge residents organizing crime watch group

May 20, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Union Bridge has had one serious crime this year, a school break-in by a couple of guys who wanted to play basketball in the gym. But the town does have children and teen-agers who hang on the corner of Main Street and Broadway beneath the town's lone traffic light -- until curfew.

The corner gatherings, reports of fights among students at school bus stops and rumors of bus stop drug deals are prompting town residents to organize a crime watch group.

"We need one, and we need it bad," Keith Hefner, an Elger Street resident told the Town Council at its meeting Monday night. "There are a lot of kids who hang out on the corners. We can't afford 24-hour police protection, but we can have parents walk the town, have the kids move on."

Hefner, who volunteered to head the crime watch team at a community meeting last week, said he has recruited eight volunteers, but needs four groups of four adults to take rotating town patrol assignments. He plans to seek additional volunteers at the annual Union Bridge Volunteer Fire Company carnival next week.

Union Bridge and neighboring New Windsor, each with a population of about 1,000, are low-crime communities, said 1st Sgt. Andrew Mays, coordinator of the state police resident trooper program for Carroll County.

He said statistics on crime in the town were not readily available, but he recalled one report of a burglary May 10 at the new Elmer Wolfe Elementary School under construction on North Main Street.

"They weren't ransacking the place. They were playing basketball when we caught them," he said.

Mays said police arrested one adult and one juvenile, both males.

Mays said crime watch is a good idea, despite the low crime rate. "It pays to prepare for the future. If the citizens there want to form a crime watch, we'll facilitate it in every way we can," he said.

Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr. said he doesn't think Union Bridge has a serious crime or curfew violation problem. Young people on the corner "once in a while, get a little loud," he said. But he said the town has few violations of the 10 p.m. curfew on school nights and midnight on weekends for those under 18.

If drug dealing occurs at bus stops, witnesses aren't calling police, Jones said. The resident trooper shared by Union Bridge and New Windsor does not provide written reports of his work. Jones said the trooper has not mentioned any complaints of drug dealing in the informal reports he gives Jones and Councilwoman Kathleen D. Kreimer, who heads the police committee.

Jones said the only reported serious crimes he recalls were one or two incidents of people breaking into cars last year.

Kreimer said young people on the corner have been responsive to her requests to disperse.

"I go up and talk to the kids and ask them to get out of the street. It's how you approach it. They've been nice. They say, 'OK, OK, we know. We'll move on.' I tell them I don't want to see anybody get hurt," she said.

Kreimer said she suspects drug problems in Union Bridge are "no more than anyplace else."

"We just want to handle it before it gets worse," she said.

Hefner's son, Tyrell Cox, said he would like to start a sports program for children and teen-agers who are asked to move off the corner by crime watch patrols.

Cox said the program would be more informal than the teams organized by the local recreation council.

Residents interested in crime watch are planning to meet with New Windsor Councilman Ronnie L. Blacksten, who supervises that town's neighborhood watch, and Byron Welker, the watch's volunteer coordinator.

Welker said the New Windsor program has 30 participants who patrol streets at various times. Volunteers explain New Windsor's curfew program to youths out late and notify state police of any suspicious activity.

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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