Police pick second site as HotSpot

Harper's Choice is recommended for crime program

State doubling locations

Label would bring more funding, staff to Howard village

August 08, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Police Department will recommend that Harper's Choice village in Columbia be selected as the site of the county's second anti-crime "HotSpot," police and other sources say.

The designation, which Police Chief Wayne Livesay is expected to announce tomorrow, would increase police presence and add crime-prevention efforts to a community already taking steps to combat crime.

Columbia's Village of Long Reach is the other HotSpot site.

Once County Executive James N. Robey approves the recommendation, as expected, county officials would have until Sept. 28 to apply to the Governor's Office on Crime Control and Prevention, which will determine how much funding the west Columbia village would receive.

The decision comes seven months after a female pizza deliverer was robbed and shot on the job outside a Harper's Choice apartment complex, and 11 months after two Columbia residents were shot near the village center within 24 hours.

It also comes as the Harper's Choice Community Partnership, an anti-crime group of village officials, police and other community leaders, is working to address crime and "quality-of-life" concerns in and near the village center.

Some community leaders have been concerned about the stigma a HotSpot designation could bring, but others say the increased police attention would be worth it.

"That's dynamite, as far as I'm concerned," said C. Lee Potter, a member of the Harper's Choice Village Board. "I think it will improve our property values over the long haul, and if it doesn't work, we're really not any more the loser."

Harper's Choice had the second-highest number of calls for service of any village in Columbia last year with 1,448, according to Police Department statistics.

Long Reach was first, with 1,617.

The state, which is doubling to 72 the number of HotSpots with $3.5 million approved by the legislature this year, will announce later this year how much money each jurisdiction will receive. Funding is based on the severity of crime, the fear of it and the strategies residents and officials have in place to deal with it.

Oakland Mills and North Laurel were competing for the designation.

"I'm not too surprised [that] we weren't chosen," said Earl Jones, the Columbia Council representative from Oakland Mills and a member of that body's Public Safety Committee. "I had a feeling that our people generally didn't want to be viewed in that context.

"From my perspective, I don't view [the HotSpot designation] as a negative. In fact, if you've got a problem, it's better to have that police support right there. But I know others don't think that way," Jones said.

Oakland Mills launched its anti-crime community group, Harness Oakland Mills' Energy (HOME), several months ago but is in the early stages of its public safety effort.

"I think they have a very aggressive crime-prevention initiative" in Harper's Choice, Jones said. "More so than what we have."

The HotSpot program begun in Long Reach in 1997 is widely considered a success.

In addition to the police substation that opened in the village center, the program has brought a full-time community policing officer; a state parole and probation officer; a prosecutor from the state's attorney's office; and an official from the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

"The clearest evidence of how it has helped can be seen by coming into the village center at night and seeing the amount of foot traffic going in and out of the Safeway," said John Snyder, vice chairman of the Long Reach Village Board, who has been active in the HotSpot program.

"Another illustration of what makes it so good is people who were offended by the idea now seem to see the benefit of it," Snyder said.

Bill Volenick, who sits on the Citizens Advisory Council, a public safety group affiliated with the county Police Department, welcomes a second HotSpot.

Volenick, who also is public safety chairman of the Mount Hebron-Orchard Community Association, said he hopes officers won't be diverted from the northern part of the county when problems arise in Harper's Choice.

"I think it will definitely help," said Volenick. "I'm not sure to what degree, [but] right now, if anything will help, it's good."

Sun staff writer Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article.

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