Expanding police access in Columbia's open spaces a step closer to council vote

CA says approval likely to speed law enforcement

January 22, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council moved closer last night to a vote on whether to grant county police access to most of the Columbia Association's 3,100 acres of privately owned open space.

The Columbia Association's counsel, Shelby A. Tucker-King, and its assistant director for open space, Chick Rhodehamel, told council members that unrestricted police access would help officers respond more quickly to incidents.

"It makes it a lot clearer and easier for the officers to provide public safety" if officers have access, said Rhodehamel. "It is commonly accepted that our open space is used in a public fashion."

Although police can gain access to any property without permission if a crime has been committed, officers have entree to only about 15 percent of the association's open space under a county ordinance known as Title 19.

Because parcels under Title 19 must limit hours of use to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., some -- including the village centers, the lakefront at Town Center and Lake Elkhorn in Owen Brown village -- likely would not be included.

If the council voted to grant police access to most of the open space, Rhodehamel said, the county's Recreation and Parks Department, Police Department and, ultimately, law office would have to approve the plan.

But County Executive James N. Robey said last week that he would not support the extension of police patrolling rights throughout the community's open space. He said the restrictions on use would infringe on the rights of average citizens, and that the department would not have the resources to patrol all of the pathways and playgrounds.

Police Chief Wayne Livesay supports blanket access but said through a spokesman that the department has no plan to begin patrolling all of it.

Last night, some council members expressed reservations about the policy change.

Norma Rose, the council chairwoman, said the council would debate and vote on the issue next month.

Title 19 has been debated before. Tucker-King, the association's counsel, said the organization and county police agreed in 1995 on a plan to designate most open space parcels as Title 19 properties, and submitted applications for parcels in Harper's Choice and Wilde Lake villages in 1996.

The county denied those applications last year, though, noting technical questions on about 20 parcels, and the issue has not been resolved.

In response to residents' increasing complaints about crime, the top two village officials in Oakland Mills, village board Chairman David Hatch and Vice Chairman Earl Jones, proposed last month that the council give police blanket access to all the association's open space.

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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