Executive opposes new role for police

Robey prefers limiting patrols to trouble spots instead of all of villages

January 15, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

County Executive James N. Robey said yesterday he opposes the extension of police patrolling rights throughout Columbia Association's more than 3,000 acres of privately owned open space.

"I think we need to target the areas where there's a need for it, and not just blanket all areas of Columbia," said Robey, who was county police chief for seven years. "We would have to double the size of the department to do that."

In response to residents' complaints about loitering, drinking and drug use, Oakland Mills Village Board Chairman David Hatch and Vice Chairman Earl Jones had been pushing a proposal to give police access to 3,100 acres of open space owned by the association, the homeowners' governing organization.

Although county police can go anywhere without permission if they believe a crime is being committed, they have blanket access to only about 15 percent of association property -- which includes pathways, parks and playgrounds -- under a county ordinance known as Title 19.

Jones expressed disappointment yesterday with Robey's comments, saying changes need to be made in the way police provide security for Columbia's 87,000 residents.

"I still believe that the police ought to be able to have access to any portion of any area of Columbia at any given time without having to be concerned with regard to ownership," he said. "The old methods and approaches to policing are probably not going to be effective.

"We are now an urban community, and if [Robey] is saying, `Just target the areas where the needs might be,' I thought that was what they were doing now. The areas where there is crime are pretty well targeted, but the crime persists."

County Police Chief Wayne Livesay supports the idea of having unrestricted access to association property in Columbia's 10 villages, but he said through a spokesman that, even if that access is approved by the Columbia Council, the police force has no plans to patrol the open space regularly.

Robey said he will address the issue of Title 19 access with Livesay today at their weekly briefing.

In Oakland Mills, where a gas station clerk was held up this week at gunpoint and a man was wounded in November in a gun battle near the village center, some residents and village officials have become frustrated with the Police Department.

Police called a community forum on crime a month ago, at which officers said they planned to put together a work group to identify and address safety issues in the village. But several residents at Tuesday night's village board meeting said they hadn't been contacted -- and weren't going to wait any longer.

"If this is a serious effort, that's appalling," said William Gray of Camelback Lane.

As a result, the village board scheduled a meeting Wednesday at The Other Barn to get the work group off the ground. Village leaders plan to invite a cross-section of community officials.

Robey said extending patrolling rights to all Columbia Association property would put officers in the "awkward position" of enforcing association rules and regulations rather than county and state laws.

It would also, he said, infringe on the rights of residents because, under Title 19, the open space would be closed for public use at 10 p.m.

"If all the space was put under Title 19," he said, "it would affect law-abiding citizens who are using it for legitimate purposes.

"I think there are problems with it, and I wouldn't support it," said Robey.

Pub Date: 1/15/99

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