As crime rates fall, neighbors remain aware of prevention National Night Out gatherings emphasize looking out for others

August 05, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber and Nancy A. Youssef | Del Quentin Wilber and Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF Staff writers Dail Willis and TaNoah Morgan contributed to this report.

North Laurel residents gathered at a small cookout last night and said they weren't particularly worried about crime -- mostly just concerned about cars speeding on their winding streets.

"Speeding is a crime," one neighbor said.

Even though crime is dropping across the Baltimore region, residents still attended parties and meetings last evening as part of National Night Out.

Officials, including the lieutenant governor and County Council members, visited the get-togethers, where children were awed by crash-test dummies and McGruff the Crime Dog, and partygoers ate hamburgers and pasta salad.

In Howard County, most residents said they felt safe, that crime wasn't a serious issue. But they said their neighborhoods could better prevent crimes such as juvenile troublemaking, break-ins and speeding.

"We seem to be drifting apart as a community and have busy lives," said Donna Thewes, whose trim lawn was filled with neighbors sipping cola. "Things like this help us get back together, know your neighbors. It's prevention."

It was a similar story throughout the region last night.

In Baltimore County, residents were expected at block parties with visits by the Crime Dog, police said. Others were scheduled to tour their neighborhoods, said Sgt. Kevin Novak, spokesman for the Baltimore County police.

In Anne Arundel, officials and residents planned to attend a concert to show their unity. Before the Naval Academy concert band was to take the stage at City Dock in Annapolis, the police planned to recognize officials and residents, including 96-year-old city block captain Edna Booth, for their service.

Howard County residents attended several parties and discussed crime during the 15th annual National Night Out, despite trends that show their neighborhoods are growing much safer.

During the first six months of this year, robberies dropped 14.6 percent, aggravated assaults decreased 47.6 percent and burglaries declined 17.1 percent, according to statistics released Monday by Howard police.

Last year, almost all crimes dropped from 1996 levels, except burglaries, which rose 17.1 percent, police said.

Young loiterers feared

In Harper's Choice, about 200 residents gathered at Kahler Hall to express concerns about crime, see McGruff and possibly catch a glimpse of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who was to appear.

Residents said they were worried about juvenile loiterers at the village center. Some expressed concerns about other crimes, such as vandalism and theft.

For months, police and officials have held community meetings to discuss crime. They have targeted Columbia's Long Reach village as part of a state-sponsored Hot Spot initiative. Under that program, an officer is permanently assigned to the Long Reach Village Center, and state funds have paid for extra patrols in the area.

Candidates appear

On a recent neighborhood walk-through with police across from the village center, residents expressed the concerns echoed last night.

At Kahler Hall, Helen Sutusky, who organized the walk-through, said, "This is about making sure people feel safe."

In western Howard and in North Laurel, two Republican councilmen running for county executive met with residents. In past election cycles, candidates have been peppered with crime-related questions. But not this year.

At one event, people seemed far more interested in the pending birth of a grandchild, the 19th, to Howard Councilman Charles C. Feaga, who is running for county executive.

Feaga said these events help bring the community together.

"They are more aware if anything strange is happening at someone else's house," Feaga said. "We've met neighbors who didn't know one another."

Councilman Dennis R. Schrader, a Republican running for executive, headed to several parties with police Maj. Mark Paterni to meet constituents. They found about 35 at Thewes' North Laurel home.

"We're not an inner city or the Wild West," Schrader said. "We're a pretty stable community."

"When crime is down, that's when these types of activities are most important," he added.

'Keep an eye on things'

Later, the pair knocked on the door of a North Laurel home where a Night Out party was scheduled, but a baby sitter said no adults were home.

As did other residents, two women out on a walk said they were worried about teen-agers lurking late at night and about several break-ins they've read about in community fliers. But they do what they can to prevent crime.

"We know all our neighbors on my street," said Mary Lewis, 28. "When they're not home, we keep an eye on things."

Pub Date: 8/05/98

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