Shooting spurs call for crime prevention Oakland Mills incident renews safety focus

2nd police office sought

Columbia

November 29, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFFSUN STAFF

One week after two men exchanged gunfire near the Oakland Mills Village Center, the vice chairman of the village board has renewed calls for a second satellite police office and funding for a comprehensive crime-prevention program.

Before the incident, which is under investigation, Earl Jones had suggested to the village board that Howard County police open a substation in the newly renovated village center to ease some residents' growing concerns about loiterers and possible drug activity in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Jones said he also hopes that the Columbia Association, the quasi-government of the 87,000-resident planned community, will set aside funds for Oakland Mills to hire a professional consultant to help organize a village-wide crime-prevention program.

"The community hasn't geared itself up to really and truly want to do something about this," said Jones, 30, of Oakland Mills. He added that officials have taken a "Band-Aid type of approach" when it comes to crime.

Two unidentified men exchanged gunfire about 10: 20 p.m. Nov. 20 in the 5700 block of Stevens Forest Road near the village center, according to police. A man who said he was a bystander was treated that night at Howard County General Hospital for a gunshot wound to the knee.

No arrests had been made as of last night.

Jones' proposals have prompted debate among village officials as to the appropriate level of response to residents' concerns about loitering, drug use and underage drinking -- which some say have gotten worse recently.

Alex Hekimian, Oakland Mills' representative on the Columbia Council, said the Columbia Association doesn't traditionally fulfill funding requests for anti-crime efforts at the village level because it views public safety as a county responsibility.

While Hekimian said he was "open" to Jones' idea for an independent village-wide crime program, he added, "I think we have quite a high level of expertise in the Howard County Police Department."

Police take steps

County police have taken steps to begin addressing crime in Oakland Mills: Lt. Sandra Regler has been assigned as the village's police liaison, and, according to village Manager Erin Peacock, county officers had stepped up their community presence during the weeks before the shooting.

"They're just starting to spend more time here and identify who the troublemakers are," said Peacock.

Officials are split on setting up a police satellite office in the village center. One office, where officers complete paperwork, make phone calls and talk with residents, opened in the Stevens Forest apartment complex in 1993.

Some community leaders believe a greater police presence would help discourage potential offenders; others fear the stigma such a presence might bring.

"It would detract from the village center," said David Hatch, chairman of the village board, who favors the idea of a village-wide anti-crime program.

This month, Oakland Mills celebrated the opening of the Metro Food Market, marking the completion of a Rouse Co. renovation of the village center.

Some residents say a newly refurbished center isn't going to solve the underlying problem.

"If things deteriorate significantly in the Village of Oakland Mills, it doesn't matter how many wonderful things you put in there," said Jones, the village board vice chairman. "Ultimately, they'll fail because people won't want to go there."

'Provide leadership'

One resident of Shadow Oaks Condominiums, who asked not to be named, said she won't walk to the village center convenience store Saturday nights on the Columbia Association pathway that connects Stevens Forest and White Acre roads.

She said she has often seen loiterers there, and she claims to have found liquor bottles, used condoms and empty crack vials.

"I think that the CA and villages have to get out in front and provide leadership, and say, 'Yes, there is a problem,' and work with the police," she said. "It seems to me that nobody wants to hear about it, which makes me think that people have just written off this area."

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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