Panel, police chief meet

Committee begins effort to combat crime in community

`We can't be naive'

Parties plan sessions quarterly to discuss issues of public safety

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

A long-dormant Columbia Council committee on public safety took its first step last night in a new effort to combat crime and the fear of crime in the planned community.

The Public Safety Committee met with Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay at Columbia Association (CA) headquarters to discuss issues ranging from how to enforce trespassing laws on the association's private "open space" to which illegal drugs are the most popular in the area.

The three-member committee, which was founded by a former Columbia Council member several years ago but has not been active, plans to meet with Livesay on a quarterly basis.

"The council has never quite worked with the county like this," said Jean S. Friedberg Jr., the council representative from Hickory Ridge who chairs the committee.

Added Earl Jones, the council representative from Oakland Mills and a committee member: "We're growing our own problems [in Columbia], and it's going to continue along that line."

When it comes to public safety, he said, "We need our own identity, not just a county identity."

With nearly 90,000 residents, Columbia has become Maryland's second-largest population center.

As a result, residents and officials have found themselves facing a range of public safety concerns: drugs, loitering, vandalism, armed robberies and shootings.

In September, two shootings within 24 hours near the village center shocked residents of Harper's Choice.

In January, a pizza delivery woman was robbed and shot at close range at a Harper's Choice apartment complex, the first in a string of robberies that prompted some food establishments to restrict their areas of delivery.

"We're not a gated county, and we can't be naive about crime issues," Livesay said.

Livesay said county police made 8,000 arrests last year, 2,000 of which were of people younger than 18. Most of those, he said, were county residents.

"It's been a challenge to find the right role for [the committee]," said Friedberg. "We needed some focus. It goes beyond the routine `Somebody broke into a car in the parking lot of an apartment building,' which is aggravating enough."

Friedberg said the committee is trying to determine how it can best assist the Police Department and the 10 villages in addressing concerns about public safety.

One issue Livesay and the committee will address is security in Columbia's village centers. Another is Title 19, a local ordinance that gives police certain enforcement powers on the Columbia Association's privately owned open space.

Without Title 19, police do not have the authority to order trespassers off association property unless an association representative is present. Livesay and County Executive James N. Robey do not support blanket Title 19 status for all of the association's 3,000-plus acres of open space.

Two villages, Harper's Choice and Oakland Mills, have established anti-crime community groups.

Both are competing with North Laurel for state funding for the county's second "HotSpot," a designation that will bring an increased police presence.

Jones suggested that the Columbia Council, in conjunction with county police, sponsor an annual forum on public safety that would bring together residents and officials from all 10 villages.

Last night's meeting with Livesay was the first of the council session, which began May 1.

John Snyder, vice chairman of the Long Reach Village Board who has been involved with that village's HotSpot program, said he hopes the association will focus its effort on promoting an active and informed citizenry.

The association also might provide funding for neighborhood watch groups, he said.

"You can have meetings all day, but while you're in a meeting, someone's breaking into your car," Snyder said. "The law enforcement side of the equation is dealing with the crime as appropriately as they can. It all depends on someone picking up the phone and dialing 911. They're not going to call [CA President] Debby McCarty."

Livesay said that forming a Columbia Council work group on public safety is a productive first step.

"To think we're not going to have crime is living with our heads in the sand," he said.

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