Uneasy times on Baltimore St.

Shooting, robberies mar traditionally strong neighborhood

September 12, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef and Jamal E. Watson | Nancy A. Youssef and Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

Savage's Baltimore Street never used to stand out on the Howard County Police Department's map.

It is a long row of homes near the historic district occupied by people who have strong ties to the community. Several families have lived there more than 20 years; one family has a street in the town named after it. For years, officers mainly responded to property crimes and noise complaints.

But in the past year, the neighborhoods surrounding Baltimore Street have changed, and so has the seriousness of incidents residents are reporting to police. Two 17-year-old boys were shot, police say, by another teen-ager in the 8800 block on Aug. 27. In the past five months, WaWa Food Markets, in the 9000 block, has had five robberies, the latest on Monday.

In response, WaWa officials decided last week to close the store from midnight to 5 a.m., said company spokeswoman Lori Bruce. The five robberies occurred between those hours.

The incidents are drawing mixed reactions from residents and prompting a larger police presence throughout the area. Nobody has an explanation for the increase in crime on the street.

"I hadn't paid too much attention to it until it happened in my front yard," said Cliff Shipe, who has lived on the street for 20 years. One of the victims of the August shooting fell on his driveway. "It's young people. They just don't care [about the community]. Or maybe the parents don't care."

One reason for the increase could be that WaWa had been the only business in the area open 24 hours a day, drawing area youths who have nowhere else to go, police said. It could be the growing number of transient residents in neighborhoods around the street and on U.S. 1 who might not be as dedicated to the area. Or it could be the natural evolution of neighborhoods.

"As people grow and leave, you do see changes in behavior" in neighborhoods, said Howard County Police Maj. Mark Paterni. But he lacks answers, too. "What's drawing [criminals] to Baltimore Street -- that's a valid question."

In 1998, police received 111 calls for service on Baltimore Street, compared with 30 the pre- vious year. This year, the department has received 99 calls, according to police records. In 1996, residents called for police service 44 times.

Officials say the numbers alone do not tell the story, but also the nature of the calls -- such as robberies. In the past year, more robbery, property crime and disorderly conduct calls have been received than in years past.

Police said they have devoted more resources to the neighborhood since last year. "We have some things in the works," said Capt. Michael Kessler, commander of the Southern District.

In perspective

Sgt. Karen Shinham, who supervises the robbery unit, said police believe that more than one person has been involved in the WaWa robberies. She also believes the most recent surge in violent crime is a short-term phenomenon.

William B. Waff, president of the Savage Community Association, said the recent burglaries and robberies on Baltimore Street are reason to be alarmed, but he says that the level of crime in Savage remains far below other parts of Howard County, such as North Laurel.

"For a number of years, you never heard of anything happening on Baltimore Street," Waff said.

`Still a close community'

Despite the recent shooting, Waff, who has lived in Savage for 23 years, said the neighborhood generally remains safe.

"There are a lot of old-timers here," he said. "I think it's still a close community. There are not that many problems here."

But Jin Shaw of Columbia, who owns and operates a dry-cleaning business in Savage next to the WaWa, said she is concerned.

"I'm worried -- who knows what these people are capable of doing," said Shaw, who has owned the business 7 1/2 years. She has installed an alarm system in her store to deter burglars.

"I use to think that this was a very safe community," Shaw said. "But now I can't tell.

"This is more than enough to worry about -- it's really scary."

Pub Date: 9/12/99

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