Village tour targets trouble Long Reach residents walk with police, point out problems

Fighting crime as a team

July 22, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

As evening turned to dusk, two dozen residents meandered through their Long Reach neighborhoods, showing three Howard County police officers where nagging problems lurked.

While police Sgt. Sid Smith scribbled notes, residents talked of worries about teen-age loiterers who drink and smoke, overgrown trees obscuring light posts and children finding used condoms and hypodermic needles.

Many say other older villages, such as Harper's Choice and Wilde Lake, face the same problems.

"We hear [these concerns] other places in Columbia," said Officer Lisa Bridgeforth, the Long Reach "Hot Spot" officer who works out of a satellite office in the village center.

"There are more people, more kids, lots of trees, not a whole lot of lighting," she added.

Police and residents decided to do the Monday walking tour of the communities of Heatherstone and Sierra Woods because they were drawing few people to community meetings. They hope future meetings between leaders of both communities and police will help cure the ills sketched in Smith's note pad.

Residents of Heatherstone, a 92-unit townhouse community, and Sierra Woods, a mix of apartments and condominiums, said they were worried that petty crime could turn worse.

They say their cars are being vandalized and scratched. Some say their children find hypodermic needles at the Sierra Woods playground. Several reported finding used condoms in the mulch.

"I don't even let my kids play on the playground," said Sophia Green, 34, a Sierra Woods resident. "I don't know where the [loiterers] come from. The people who live here should be the ones" who use the playground.

At a community-policing meeting held by Howard County police last month, Harper's Choice residents expressed similar concerns about teen-agers hanging around the village center and in neighborhoods.

"What do teen-agers do in Columbia?" asked Tom Forno, Harper's Choice's representative to the Columbia Council. "It's really tough. [There is] nothing for them to do around here."

In Long Reach, police and residents are taking an aggressive approach to reduce crime, thanks to a state-funded initiative that will last several more years. Bridgeforth said extra officers would patrol the area through September -- when funds paying their overtime are expected to run out.

Officials hope to take strategies developed here to the rest of Long Reach and Columbia's other villages.

"The reason for this is to find out what works," said John Snyder, vice chairman of the Long Reach Village Board. "These are national issues. We start with one small spot."

On Monday night, the residents, with officers in tow, walked across a parking lot and pointed to thick brush and tall trees. One resident recently found a soiled mattress there.

There are plans to trim the branches that obscure lamps or move light posts to other places.

Then the residents walked down a grassy slope toward a playground. Heatherstone residents say teen-agers romp on the slide and drink beer late at night. Police suggested installing another sign that clearly states "No playing after dark."

"Who knows when something more volatile will happen?" said Rich Starr, 32, a Heatherstone resident. "We've been fortunate that we haven't seen the violent crimes."

Sierra Woods residents complain of similar problems. They would like video cameras installed to deter loiterers.

About midnight, two hours after the tour ended, no teen-agers could be seen on the playgrounds, grassy areas, in bushes or by the fence between the two neighborhoods -- another trouble spot. One teen-ager, a Heatherstone resident, walked his pit bull, Coco, along Tamar Drive.

He said the residents' concerns were overblown, but his neighbors were right about teen-agers from Baltimore, Ellicott City and other Columbia villages hanging out here.

"I talk to [the teen-agers] when I walk by," said Jason Valcourt, 17. "What they do is what they do."

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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