Crime sullys Rouse vision Police statistics show that Harper's Choice has most of calls

October 04, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

James W. Rouse's planned community of Columbia, by most accounts, is a vision of upscale order -- a place where the streets and neighborhoods are named with Emily Dickinson or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in mind, and $200,000 houses come complete with meticulously mowed lawns.

Less than a mile, though, from the 18-hole Hobbit's Glen Golf Course, the site of a prestigious PGA Seniors tournament this summer, is a different kind of Columbia -- a place where, police say, drugs are regularly sold and crime is commonplace.

Here, one weekend last month, a 17-year-old boy was robbed of $100 and nearly shot to death on a footpath near the 5400 block of Harpers Farm Road; 24 hours later, a 38-year-old man was shot twice, in the arm and chest, just a block and a half away.

In the Village of Harper's Choice, the two shootings -- unusual in a county that has had just three homicides this year -- mark a heating up of what has become a simmering problem, largely unnoticed elsewhere in Columbia. Recent police statistics show that Harper's Choice has become one of the most crime-stricken villages in Rouse's 31-year-old planned community.

From January to June, police data show, Harper's Choice was the village with the most calls for drug violations, 59; break-ins, 32; disorderly conduct, 195; noise, 75; intoxication, 14; liquor violations, 24; and robberies, eight.

The 59 drug complaints was just six less than in all of last year.

By contrast, the newest of the 10 villages, River Hill, which is less populous, had 53 calls for service between January and June -- for all categories combined.

Crime in Columbia, or even Howard County, hardly compares with that of Baltimore. But what's at stake in Columbia, some residents say, is not just the safety of those who live there. It's the ideal of Rouse's planned community itself. Columbia, which has quickly grown to nearly 90,000 residents, was supposed to be a self-contained suburban hamlet, a kind of real-life Mayberry.

'A sea change'

"I think there's been a sea change over the last several years" concerning Rouse's vision, said Tom Snyder, vice chairman of the Long Reach Village Board. "Suddenly, there has been this explosion into Columbia of people from much worse situations."

The two suspects arrested in connection with the shootings have criminal records. One, 21-year-old Maurice Green, was given a two-year suspended sentence in 1995 for drug possession. The other, 18-year-old Robert Joseph Manning, has been charged with drug violations; his trial is scheduled in January. Green has an address in Baltimore; Manning had an address in Baltimore until recently.

Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay acknowledges that the ostensibly idyllic community, about halfway between Baltimore and Washington, has drug connections to both cities.

Police and community officials say they have taken steps in Harper's Choice to address the problem of crime, including loitering and burglary, particularly in the village center.

Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon has a new campaign commercial touting her efforts to deal with "vandalism and other crimes" in Harper's Choice and neighboring Wilde Lake village.

"We're working very hard on this," said Nicki Stenzler, chair of the Harper's Choice Village Board.

Asked whether police should do more, Capt. Mike Kessler, the Southern District commander, replied, "We're doing all we can."

'Nice and quiet'

Gary Blake, a 33-year-old resident of Fall River Terrace apartments in the 5500 block of Harpers Farm Road, near where the second shooting took place, doesn't think that's the case.

He moved to Columbia from Los Angeles about two years ago because his cousin, who lives in Ellicott City, told him the community was "nice and quiet."

For him, it has been neither.

More than a month before the shooting, on Aug. 15, according to court documents, Blake was hit over the head from behind with a bottle and beaten unconscious by as many as 15 people after an argument outside his front door. Although few in the neighborhood would talk to police for fear of retaliation, one witness later said she heard one of the subjects say, "We killed that [expletive] from L.A."

The owner and manager of Fall River Terrace, the Columbia Housing Corp., went door-to-door with police Sept. 3 to distribute fliers addressing residents' complaints about loiterers, among other things, a few weeks after the beating.

Eighteen days later, just outside the complex, John Gordon Jackson, 38, of Harper's Choice was shot and nearly died.

'Not the first time'

Carole MacPhee, executive director for the nonprofit housing company, said she has no plans to take similar action in response to the recent violence.

"This is not the first time there has been a shooting on or around our properties," she said. "I'm not going to continue going door-to-door for everything that happens. What else would I want to do [for residents] at this point? Scare them?"

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