As crime rates fall, residents stay aware of prevention needs On National Night Out, neighbors 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 Sun staff writers Dail Willis and TaNoah Morgan contributed to this article.

Residents of North Laurel in Howard County gathered at a small cookout last night 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.

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

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 Anne Arundel County, officials and residents attended a concert to show their unity. Some wore matching T-shirts. Before the Naval Academy concert band took the stage at City Dock, the Annapolis Police Department recognized officers, employees and neighbors, including 96-year-old block watch captain Edna Booth, for their help in neighborhood watch activities.

It was a similar story throughout the region last night.

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

In Baltimore County, residents held block parties, were visited by McGruff the Crime Dog and took tours of their neighborhoods, said Sgt. Kevin B. Novak, spokesman for Baltimore County police.

Howard County residents came to several parties to discuss crime during the 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 dropped 47.6 percent and burglaries declined 17.1 percent, Howard police said.

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

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

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

For months, police and officials have been holding community meetings to discuss the issues. They have also targeted Columbia's Long Reach village as part of a state-sponsored Hot Spot initiative. On a recent neighborhood walk-through with police across from the village center, residents said they were also mostly worried about teen-agers with little to do.

Across Howard, residents said they came out to build better community ties to fight crime.

"This is about making sure people feel safe," said Helen Sutusky, who organized the Harper's Choice event.

In North Laurel about 7: 45 p.m., Maj. Mark Paterni and County Councilman Dennis R. Schrader knocked on the door where they expected to find a National Night Out Party, but only the baby sitter was there.

Like other residents, two women out for a walk in North Laurel said they worry about teen-agers lurking late at night and about 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," Mary Lewis, 28, told Schrader and Paterni. "When they're not home, we keep an eye on things."

Pub Date: 8/05/98

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