Crime funds would focus on juveniles

Harper's Choice, if picked, could get officer, programs

`It's about resources'

Long Reach already designated as HotSpot area

August 10, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

As the likely site of Howard County's second HotSpot, Columbia's Harper's Choice village is expected to gain a full-time community police officer and establish several new programs to punish offenders and prevent crime -- particularly among juveniles.

The county Police Department recommended yesterday that an area including the Harper's Choice Village Center and surrounding neighborhoods, where three shootings have occurred in the past year, be designated as one of three dozen new HotSpots across the state.

Columbia already has one HotSpot -- an area targeted by law enforcement and community officials because of its crime or the perception of crime -- in the village of Long Reach.

Capt. Mike Kessler, the Southern District commander, said state funding for a HotSpot in Harper's Choice would mean added after-school programs, probably for middle school youths; addiction services, including counseling and treatment; and personnel from the state Department of Juvenile Justice and the Parole and Probation Division.

A community police officer also would likely be assigned to the HotSpot on a full-time basis, as is the case in Long Reach.

"It's about resources, and there are just a lot of resources that come into the neighborhood when you have a HotSpot there," Kessler said.

Police intend to hold a strategy session with residents, village representatives and state officials in the next few weeks to develop a plan for implementing the program. The county has until Sept. 28 to submit its application to the Governor's Office on Crime Prevention and Control.

That office is expected to announce the grant awards, which range from $35,000 to $200,000 a year, in November.

If approved, Kessler said, the county's second HotSpot program could begin as early as January.

Tentative boundaries

Police have mapped out tentative boundaries for the HotSpot, which, according to the rules of the grant, can be between a half-mile and a mile wide.

In addition to the village center, Kessler said, the site would include the Harper House, Fenland Field, Waverly Winds and Fall River Terrace apartment complexes; the Harpers Glen townhouses; the Florence Bain Senior Center; Longfellow and Swansfield elementary schools; Harper's Choice Middle School; and part of Cedar Lane Park.

"If it's up to me, I think the bigger the better," Kessler said.

He said police officials chose Harper's Choice over two other contenders -- Oakland Mills and North Laurel -- because of the number of calls for service last year and the ongoing efforts of the Harper's Choice Community Partnership.

That coalition of residents, police and community leaders, formed more than a year ago, has been addressing crime and "quality of life" issues in and around the village center.

"The Community Partnership here is well-matured," Kessler said. " That's self-help `plus.' That needs to be rewarded."

Calls for police service

According to police statistics, Harper's Choice had 490 calls for service in eight major crime categories, compared with 381 in North Laurel and 229 in Oakland Mills. In Harper's Choice, that number included 160 calls for assault, 121 for theft, 102 for drug use, 53 for burglary and 33 for vehicle theft.

"I guess if Harper's Choice is a hotter spot, then that's fine," said Tom Flynn, president of the North Laurel Civic Association. "From what I understand, the intent is to put the dollars in the community that needs it the most."

Sgt. Morris Carroll, a Police Department spokesman, said he hopes community activists in North Laurel and Oakland Mills will use Harper's Choice as an example for what a community can do itself to promote public safety and reduce crime and the fear of it.

Kessler said the department is looking at ways to help those two communities, but resources are limited.

Officials involved with the HotSpot in Harper's Choice are expected to address everything from drug abuse to nuisance abatement to after-school activities.

"The drug problem manifests itself in many ways, but the quality of life issues are almost everywhere you look," Kessler said. "It might be that it's simply most important to give kids something to do in their spare time."

Police would like to open a satellite office in the Harper's Choice village center in connection with the initiative, but no storefronts are empty, Kessler said.

"A satellite office gives the public a real perception of presence," Kessler said. "If we can do that, we'll do it."

Sun staff writer Jamal E. Watson contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 8/10/99

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