Anne Arundel County police have done more than just increase patrols in Brooklyn Heights - a neglected neighborhood in Brooklyn Park troubled by drugs, unemployment and trash.
They've set up shop - literally.
The new police substation is a storefront in a strip mall off Ritchie Highway between a pet clinic and a Blockbuster video store. Residents wandering in might find officers, parole and probation officials, drug counselors and health workers standing behind a front service counter.
Like any business, when someone walks in, they ask, "May I help you?"
"That's what this is about," said Cpl. Luther Gordon Merritt Jr. "It's not always lock up, lock up, lock up. It's about helping people. It includes solving people's problems, getting them counseling, picking up trash."
So when the county received a $135,000 grant to designate the area as a "HotSpot" eight months ago, part of it went to set up the storefront. The substation helps coordinate efforts of agencies such as permits and licenses and the police, public works and health departments.
In the neighborhood, the Parks and Recreation Department offers an after-school children's club. The state's attorney's office has designated an attorney to help with drug enforcement, and public works crews regularly clean alleys and haul trash. Substance abuse and domestic violence counselors follow up with families.
"The cooperation we've received has been phenomenal," said Sgt. William R. Krampf, supervisor for the HotSpot.
Officials including County Executive Janet S. Owens, Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan and the local community improvement association president, Joe Collini, have fully supported the program, Krampf said.
The success of the coordinated effort among government, police and residents will be celebrated at a community day tomorrow at Park Elementary School.
Featured at the event, planned from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., will be games, face-painting, a dunk-an-officer booth and appearances by the Orioles Bird and Louie, the Baysox mascot, firetrucks and the police helicopter.
The day will still be about helping - with home-buying information, health screenings for blood pressure and job applications for positions at Arundel Mills - a 3,000-employee mega-mall due to open in November.
"It doesn't do any good to come and clean up, if you don't provide long-lasting alternatives," said Officer Liz Shaffer, another officer assigned to the HotSpot substation.
Merritt, assigned full time to the HotSpot, says he will seek more funding in the next grant application to set up a learning center in the basement to help people earn high school equivalency diplomas and receive job training.
HotSpot workers also plan to ask for more staff. "I live and breathe this HotSpot," says county native Merritt, 39, who's a 21-year county police veteran.
Merritt is always joking, making friends with residents and introducing himself saying, "It's nice for you to meet me." But he's serious when he says, "Of all the Hot-Spot areas in the state, if there's one community we can turn around, it's Brooklyn Heights."
The HotSpot has money for an average of 29 hours of overtime for patrol officers each week. But Krampf says there's more to do, as he drives through the neighborhood of brick rowhouses, pointing to run-down properties rented by the week to drug dealers.
He looks in the distance when he says, "This HotSpot thing is why I wanted to become a cop - to make comprehensive change."