Community group avoids discussion of shootings Policing task force focuses on 'quality of life'

October 06, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Members of a newly formed community policing task force in Columbia's Harper's Choice village -- where a 17-year-old boy and a 38-year-old man were shot in separate incidents near the village center last month -- decided not to address the recent violence at their monthly meeting last night.

Instead, they chose a formal name for themselves, discussed plans for the Apple Fest and talked about installing more lights and setting up extra trash cans in and around the village center.

"We need to move on," said Sgt. Rick Maltz, who regularly patrols Harper's Choice as part of an anti-crime effort begun in that village in June. "The whole idea of the task force [is], we're dealing with the positive side."

The two victims, both of Harper's Choice, were shot last month 24 hours and a block and a half apart near the village center, off Harpers Farm Road. Police, who addressed the violence at a community meeting last Thursday at the Swansfield Neighborhood Center, have arrested two suspects in connection with the shootings.

The two dozen residents and community leaders who gathered in the Kahler Hall basement last night spent the first part of the two-hour meeting deciding what to call themselves. Some didn't want to include the word "policing" in the name because it sounded "negative," and, in the end, they won out. The group was officially christened the Harper's Choice Community Partnership.

Randy Reinhardt, a pastor at the Covenant Community Church and a "co-facilitator" of the task force, said the HCCP's mission is to "enhance the quality of life [of village residents] through collaborative community efforts."

Because Harper's Choice was chosen by county police and the national Community Policing Consortium as the model site for an anti-crime effort this year, members of four work groups have been trying to address "quality of life" issues in the village center. One group is working to promote a more positive image of the village; another is trying to clean up the village center and establish a "zero tolerance" policy for suspect or criminal behavior there.

Some participants at last night's meeting asked that the recent shootings be added to the discussion, but Reinhardt said he didn't want to get sidetracked from the business at hand. The shootings, he explained later, hadn't changed the group's agenda. "Why would it change our agenda?" he asked.

The Sun reported Sunday that Harper's Choice has become one of the most crime-ridden villages in Columbia. According to police statistics for the first six months of this year, Harper's Choice had the most calls for drug violations; breaking and entering; disorderly conduct; noise; intoxication; liquor violations; and robbery.

George Brown, a member of the task force who has lived in Harper's Choice for more than 20 years, said last night that the FTC high number of police calls in his village doesn't necessarily mean there is more crime there. "I'm not convinced that there is a great increase in crime" in Harper's Choice, he said. "I am convinced that there is an increase in the reporting of it."

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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