Three areas vying for aid

Selected `hot spot' will receive increased police presence

State-funded program

Group to choose among N. Laurel, Harper's Choice, Oakland Mills

July 09, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Howard County police have narrowed the list of possible sites for a second state-funded police satellite office to North Laurel and Columbia's Oakland Mills and Harper's Choice villages.

Eighteen officials -- representing the three communities and law enforcement, health and education agencies -- held a two-hour discussion yesterday, their first in an effort to select the site. The group will spend two months deciding which community will be designated the next county "hot spot" to receive funding for extra law enforcement and community programs.

"We discussed what each government agency would be able to do," said Kim Miller, who represented North Laurel. "I just told them that we need help."

The county's first "hot spot" is in Columbia's Long Reach village, where officials have begun youth-oriented and mediation programs, in addition to increased police activity.

State officials said they will double the number of designated "hot spots" statewide to 72, using $3.5 million allocated by the legislature in the last session. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's office will send letters to each county next week, informing officials that they can expand or enhance their current "hot spots" or create new ones. Howard officials want one area designated a "hot spot."

Each jurisdiction will have until Sept. 28 to submit a proposal and will learn in November how much funding they will receive, said Marty Burns, spokeswoman for the Governor's Office on Crime Control and Prevention.

Funding for the HotSpot program, as it is officially called, is based on two factors: the severity or fear of crime, or both, andthe community's strategy for reducing crime, Burns said.

Harper's Choice, Oakland Mills and Long Reach have the most calls for police service among Columbia villages.

Local representatives also proposed Harper's Choice and Oakland Mills because they are well-organized communities, and their residents are active in community policing, said Sgt. Morris Carroll, a county police spokesman.

"We have a community structure set up to support this," said David Hatch, chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board.

Officer Lisa Bridgeforth Myers -- who leads the Long Reach "hot spot" program -- said she believes having another in Columbia would help contain crime throughout the city.

"We get to know a lot of people's faces and names," Myers said. "That's an incentive for them to go to the other side of Columbia."

North Laurel was selected as a possible site because officers have observed more crime there than in other areas of the county, Carroll said.

Miller said North Laurel is lacking in community organization and programs, and that demonstrates more need for a "hot spot."

"I can't do this by myself and neither can my community," said Miller, who has led neighborhood crime prevention activities in North Laurel. "We're the forgotten ones of Howard County."

County State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon acknowledged that, saying, "Sometimes communities outside Columbia suffer."

"The challenge would be setting up a `hot spot' where there's not much structure," she said of North Laurel.

This year's selection process is different from last year's, when many communities did not want a "hot spot" because they feared a stigma would be attached to it.

But Harper's Choice residents decided increased police presence was more important.

"That was the hottest debate on the village board -- it might lower our property values," said Lee Potter, a Harper's Choice Village Board member. "But we finally concluded we wanted a `hot spot.' We believe it will complement the programs we have."

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