A village regains control

HotSpot: Three years after part of Long Reach received the designation, crime is down -- as are residents' complaints.

March 27, 2000|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

The metal folding chairs in the Long Reach village satellite police station, once filled with angry residents who complained of drug trafficking, loitering and public drunkenness, are mostly empty now when community meetings are held.

Street names once familiar to police rarely appear on the daily crime blotter.

Attendance at monthly community meetings "has started to trail off," said John Snyder, vice president of the Long Reach Village Board. "As in all things, if everyone is happy, then they don't come out to complain. I guess that is a good sign."

Three years after a half-mile patch of territory in Long Reach village was designated a crime "HotSpot" by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, violent crime has dropped 40 percent and other types of crime are down 12.5 percent. Residents seem to be satisfied that they are again in control of their community.

Long Reach is one of 62 areas in the state that has been designated a HotSpot. All of the communities, including Long Reach, receive state money to run satellite police stations and anti-crime programs.

Harper's Choice was named a HotSpot last year, and in the next few weeks, police will open a satellite office in the village center there that will serve as a kind of program centerpiece.

HotSpot team members from the Police Department, parole, probation and the state's attorney's office will work in the office. And the presence of police officers in marked cruisers -- who can stop by as they patrol the neighborhood to use computers or to write reports -- will give the shopping center a feeling of safety.

At the Long Reach satellite office on Cloudleap Court, Officer Lisa Myers, parole and probation agent Joe Parks and other team members hold regular meetings to organize community events. Probationers check in with Parks in the satellite office, and Myers holds monthly community meetings there.

The presence of police officers and the buzz of activity around the office have had a calming effect at the shopping center, which often had complaints of loitering and drug dealing.

"Things certainly seem to have curtailed around here," said Tom Winter.

Winter lives in Heatherstone, a townhouse community that was feuding with Sierra Woods, a neighboring apartment complex. The dispute centered on a wooden rail fence surrounded by bushy pine trees. At night, a group of men hung out there in the shadows, drinking and using drugs.

Each community blamed the other for the problems. Then one evening, Myers brought them together to find solutions. Five representatives from each neighborhood sat on metal folding chairs arranged in a circle inside the police satellite office, Snyder recalled.

"I remember the moment when [Myers] and I looked around and saw on one side of the room five white men and on the other, five black women," he said. "I thought I couldn't imagine two more different groups in America today, but we soon realized that we had the same issues, a need for safety."

From that point, Winter said, the two groups worked together and with the Columbia Association and police to cut back the trees and install lighting around the fence.

`No place to hide'

"There is no place for them to hide anymore and do their criminal activity," Winter said.

Residents also worked with the association to have bushes pulled from around the foot tunnel at Hayshed and Tamar Drive where groups of people used to hide in the shadows and drink at night.

"I still wouldn't go through the tunnel when the sun goes completely down," Winter said. "But it has made a difference."

Improvements have also been seen on Yellow Rose Court -- a single street of 60 townhouses that is less than half a mile long -- where last year there were more calls for service than there were houses.

In July, residents went to Myers with their complaints of drug trafficking, burglaries and destroyed property. In September, undercover police officers made several arrests, and Sue Parker, the covenant adviser for Long Reach, visited the street to investigate covenant violations on several properties.

"I think things have really settled down there," Myers said. "At our last meeting with the homeowners association, they said they wanted to work on some things to bring the community together."

`A ghost town at night'

But the Long Reach community, Winter and Snyder said, probably would not have come together if it had not been for the HotSpot and the police satellite office that serves as a central point of action. Renovations at the village center, which included additional lighting, also made a difference.

"Before the renovations," Snyder said, "it was a ghost town at night. But now, at 10 p.m., there are people shopping at Safeway and they apparently feel safe coming out at night."

The HotSpot, Myers and Parks said, is about motivating the community against crime.

"The best thing about the HotSpot is that it's basically about community policing and partnerships," Parks said.

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