Crime-fighting activist's success may spread

Park Avenue resident is hoping to expand neighborhood watch

June 30, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

Kim Miller has a simple message for anyone who would ever consider perpetrating a crime in her North Laurel neighborhood: Think again.

The activist, who has developed a reputation as a visible watchdog, is credited by the Howard County Police Department with creating a safer community through the Patuxent Ridge Neighborhood Watch. The organization, which she formed, helps safeguard her neighborhood from the drug trafficking, vandalism and burglaries that have become all too familiar to urban life, and have managed to seep into one of the most affluent counties in Maryland.

Miller has been so successful that she's looking to expand the neighborhood watch area. Several other neighborhoods have asked the activist to help them galvanize their communities.

"Those of us who live in this community -- whether we rent or own our homes -- have a right to our piece of the American dream," said Miller, 28, who lives in the 9500 block of Park Ave. "Nobody has a right to take that away from us, and we won't stand by and let them."

County police say Miller has transformed her community, helping to "reduce crime in her neighborhood by 63 percent" in the past year, said Sgt. Paul Steppe, supervisor of the department's community services section.

"She provided the leadership, and the community made a difference," Steppe said. "It's the perfect example of what a community can do if they are motivated to make a difference."

Cleaning up the neighborhood where Miller has lived for two years has not been easy.

The soft-spoken advocate, a grass-roots organizer at heart, knocked on hundreds of doors trying to mobilize her neighbors to fight vandalism and force out a group of drug dealers that had moved into a neighborhood house.

"Sometimes they would gather over here," Miller said, pointing to a wooded area behind Laurel Woods Elementary School just a few blocks from her home.

Today, a tall street lamp is in place to keep the wooded area lighted. Vandalism is less frequent, and the drug dealers are gone. The community has some peace of mind.

"It's amazing what they were able to do just by communicating with each other," Steppe said. "The drug dealers began to feel uncomfortable in the neighborhood, and not the other way around. They suddenly disappeared because they knew that residents were going to call the police and report what was happening."

Miller, who works for the federal government, volunteers as the North Laurel community liaison to the Police Department. She represents 125 houses in her neighborhood watch, an area from Howard Street to Park Avenue.

The planned expansion of the neighborhood watch will stretch across a four-mile area encompassing communities that are below Route 216.

The expansion likely will mean additional problems and more battles to fight. But Miller says she is up to it.

"I'll obviously need help organizing people to get involved," she said, "but it's important that we know what's going on."

Miller has started her organizing efforts in one of the more troubled North Laurel areas -- Whiskey Bottom Square.

There, drug dealing and crime are pervasive and can most often be traced to the Seasons apartments and Whiskey Bottom Shopping Center, police said.

Miller has recruited Shannon Tomchick to serve as the block captain for the area.

"I think it's going to take a lot of work to get our neighborhood in order," Tomchick said. "I see it all from where I live. I see the drug dealing, I see people urinating out in public. Half of these people are not even from this area -- they come here from Washington, D.C."

Tomchick said many of her neighbors live in fear, too afraid to call police.

"They don't want to be seen as snitching, but this area really needs to be cleaned up," she said.

As Tomchick set out to show her neighbors the importance of a neighborhood watch, Miller was on hand to lend moral support.

"She was there with me spreading the word and passing out fliers," Tomchick said. "She was a great help and is a great person."

Miller has begun to circulate to neighbors memos and newsletters highlighting some of the safety concerns that they've expressed at meetings. She urges them to stay involved.

"It's important to show our numbers," Miller said. "It's important that we let people know that we won't be afraid and that we will take action."

Police say they wish they could find out what makes Miller tick and translate it to every community in the county.

"This is what it takes," Steppe said. "The community has an important role to play, and working with the police, we can continue to keep our crime rate down."

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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