Harper's Choice residents say they live in new fear Police patrols added since recent shootings

October 02, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay moved last night to answer the questions -- and quell the concerns -- of Harper's Choice residents at an anti-crime community meeting in the wake of two near-fatal shootings in that village last month.

Joined at the Swansfield Neighborhood Center by Capt. Mike Kessler, the Southern District commander, Livesay told more than 30 residents and community leaders that the two shootings, which took place near the village center 24 hours and a block and a half apart, appear to have involved drugs in some way, and may have been related.

At the same time, he added, "We don't think it's anything systemic to Harper's Choice. It could have happened anywhere."

Two men, ages 18 and 21, have been arrested and charged with attempted first-degree murder in connection with the shootings, and are being held at the Howard County Detention Center.

Some residents at the meeting told Livesay they continue to worry about their safety, particularly because the guns have not been recovered.

"I feel safer walking in the streets of Washington than walking out my door" to the Safeway supermarket in the village center, said Clark Burnette, a former District of Columbia resident who lives in the 5500 block of Wooden Hawk Circle, near the site of one of the shootings.

Burnette said he once felt perfectly safe in Columbia, but not any more. He now keeps all his outside lights on, including the floodlights in the back yard. Last night, he drove the few blocks to and from the neighborhood center because he didn't feel comfortable walking.

As part of a community policing effort begun in June in Harper's Choice, county police have been working with local officials to address petty crime, such as disorderly conduct and loitering, predominantly in the village center.

Kessler said that from one to 10 extra officers, working overtime, have been on patrol in the area on any given day -- particularly since the shootings.

Neither Kessler nor Livesay would say how long the extra officers would be on patrol.

Livesay said Howard County, which had one homicide last year, enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in Maryland and the Baltimore-Washington region. "As bad as it is, let's make it as positive as we can for the community," he said.

That's Eileen Clegg's philosophy. She doesn't live in Harper's Choice, but she works at Swansfield Elementary School there and shops at the village center. She thinks the perception of crime there is worse than the reality.

"I don't live in fear because I don't want to do that," Clegg said. "I imprison myself when I do that."

The first shooting, in which a 17-year-old boy was wounded, occurred about 12: 30 a.m. Sept. 20 near Cedar Lane and Harpers Farm Road; the second occurred, 24 hours later, near the Fall River Terrace apartment complex in the 5500 block of Harpers Farm Road. The victim, John Gordon Jackson, 38, remains hospitalized.

Police, who continue to investigate, say they may make more arrests in the shootings.

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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