Police, residents turn focus on crime Alcohol and drug use, loitering top concerns in Oakland Mills

December 15, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

About 50 residents turned out last night for a forum sponsored by Howard County police in Oakland Mills, where concerns about crime have heightened since two unidentified men exchanged gunfire near the village center last month.

Police Chief Wayne Livesay and other officers attended the meeting, which lasted about two hours and was aimed at establishing an anti-crime network that will help the village deal with problems ranging from robbery to drug abuse.

"We can't do it without you, and you can't do it without us," said police Cpl. Paul Steppe of the Community Services Division. "You have to decide how fed up you are."

FOR THE RECORD - A person interviewed outside the Oakland Mills Village Center in Columbia for an article that appeared Dec. 15 in the Howard County edition of The Sun on residents' concerns about crime in Oakland Mills falsely identified himself as Jacob Winthrope, 16. There is a Columbia teen-ager named Jacob Winthrop. He was not at the village center on the night of the interview and was at home with his family. The Sun regrets the error.

Gathered at the Other Barn in the newly refurbished village center, participants identified loitering as their main concern. But they also complained of drug and alcohol use, lack of police presence and officers' slow response to nonemergency calls.

Bonita Burton, who has lived in the Dorsey Forge apartment complex across from the village center for 14 years, said she rarely sees police patrolling the neighborhood when she is waiting for the bus early in the morning.

She doesn't bother to call police to report suspicious activity, she said, because officers sometimes don't respond at all.

But police emphasized the importance of community participation, saying they need residents to report all suspicious activity.

"They have given me to you," said Lt. Sandra Regler, the village's police liaison, "so use me."

dTC Last night's meeting, sponsored by county police and the Oakland Mills Village Board, came about a month after two men exchanged gunfire in the 5700 block of Stevens Forest Road.

No arrests have been made in that case. Police said last night they have identified several suspects, some of whom have local ties and some of whom have ties to Anne Arundel County.

Earl Jones, vice chairman of the Village Board, used the forum to renew his call for a second police satellite office, which has met some resistance, and a village-wide crime prevention program.

Jones said the problem can't be solved without the help of community leaders, including police, state and local politicians, school and church officials and Columbia Association representatives.

"Unless we get integrated in a better way," said Jones, a 30-year resident of Oakland Mills, "we'll just gripe and gripe."

Security guards have become a fixture at the Royal Farm convenience store on Stevens Forest Road on weekend nights. Other signs of the village's crime problem -- beer cans, broken glass, an empty bottle of Peach Chardonnay -- are easily seen during a walk along the Columbia Association pathway that runs behind the village center.

And then there are the loiterers. While police and residents were meeting inside the Other Barn, three teen-agers were hanging out on a nearby street corner despite the cold.

"There are no drugs here, just people playing," said Jacob Winthrope, 16, of Oakland Mills, one of the teens. "All we do is sit here and giggle. There's nothing to do here."

Inside the Other Barn, Arnis Boschulte, who moved to Oakland Mills seven months ago, recounted the night she was awakened by gunshots.

Now, she said, "I'm afraid to look out my window, that I might get shot."

Staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 12/15/98

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