Fighting crime in Columbia Howard County: Residents must communicate with police to keep planned community safe.

August 05, 1998

RESIDENTS OF the older villages in Columbia -- Wilde Lake, Harper's Choice, Long Reach -- are worried about a rising incidence of petty crimes that mirrors what is common in urban settings such as Baltimore and Washington.

Howard County police officers last month showed Long Reach residents that they share their concern by conducting a nighttime walking tour of the Heatherstone and Sierra Woods neighborhoods.

Residents pointed out areas that were poorly lighted or obscured by trees.

They said they have found used hypodermic needles and condoms on playgrounds where teen-age loiterers drink and smoke dope.

Such behavior, if allowed to get out of hand, could lead to other criminal acts, including burglary and theft. Howard officers are using community policing methods to prevent that.

Simply by talking to people who live in at-risk neighborhoods, police can identify ways to address crime before it occurs. It should be a simple matter to improve lighting and trim trees.

Of course, increasing the presence of police is a major deterrent to crime. Heatherstone and Sierra Woods might benefit from nighttime foot patrols.

But that's only part of the answer. Positive activities must be found for idle teen-agers. Young people need places to go so that they don't end up on a playground at night with nothing to do.

Community policing must continue throughout the county. Interaction before an emergency between officers and residents makes it easier for both of them to work together when there are crimes to solve.

It is no less disturbing to find used needles and condoms at a children's playground in suburban Howard County than it is to see needles and condoms at a park in Baltimore. Drug abuse and prostitution are corrosive, criminal activities at either location.

It is important to stop these crimes at this stage -- before people start taking their occurrence for granted.

Pub Date: 8/05/98

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