Village center owner, businesses seek to control loitering by teens

Security personnel added in Long Reach

Columbia

August 01, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Businesses and Howard County police are working to curb loitering at Long Reach Village Center, worried that teens congregating by the Safeway entrance or at the bus stop are disturbing customers.

The center has had more loitering this summer, business representatives said, likely stemming from a combination of a new HotSpot coordinator and new village center owners who are not familiar with the problem.

"In certain circumstances, you may have people who feel a little unsafe walking into a dark parking lot with people hanging out around the shopping plaza," said Kevin Henry, manager of the village center's Safeway.

Business representatives concede that the teen-agers have not been involved in criminal activity, and they want to make sure that does not happen.

Last week, they met with police and officials from Kimco Realty Corp. of New Hyde Park, N.Y. - which bought the center this year and brought in security officers.

"The security people are on top of things," said George Martiyan, owner of Parcel Plus. "They're continually moving people who don't belong here."

Loitering by teen-agers has been a major community concern. Cpl. Lisa Myers, a county police spokeswoman who used to be the village's HotSpot coordinator, said the problem is largely caused by kids who believe there is nothing else to do.

County police patrol the area on foot and on bicycles, and maintain a satellite office at the center.

In April, Officer James Iacarino became the new Long Reach HotSpot coordinator.

"It's really not that the kids are doing anything major. It's not like there are shootings or stabbings out there," Myers said. "It's just the idea that they're there."

However, crime has long been a concern in Long Reach, Columbia's largest village with about 15,756 residents.

In June 1997, the village was designated as one of the first 35 areas in Maryland to receive HotSpot grant funds.

At the time, the area's violent crime rates were more than twice the county average.

In a meeting last fall, about 60 concerned residents met with Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay, primarily voicing concerns about loitering by teen-agers.

One woman said she broke her wrist while trying to get away from some teens.

Some residents at the meeting called for a curfew, but Livesay and other residents argued that would be unfair to teen-agers returning from late-night jobs.

If loitering escalates to offenses such as destroying property, businesses can ban individuals.

Those who are banned from the area can be arrested if they return, Myers said.

Banning considered

The Police Department is working on developing a universal banning procedure, under which business owners and apartment managers would serve individuals with a letter that the Police Department can enforce, Myers said.

The center has had its share of crime. Last summer, a man was stabbed after 15 to 20 people pursued him and his friends from the village center.

In 1993, a 27-year-old Columbia woman was abducted from the center and raped.

In 1990, an armored car guard was fatally shot at the center.

Myers said the recent concerns about loitering by teen-agers has been more about perception.

"Oftentimes people will feel intimated by their dress - the baggy shorts; in the wintertimes, the guys will have the big, heavy jackets," Myers said.

But that perception is unfair, said Dr. William A. Taylor, chairman of the Long Reach Village Board.

He said the village is full of "a lot of good kids and a lot of good people" who are stereotyped.

Taylor said he has not heard any recent complaints about loitering by teen-agers, and he is confident that Iacarino is fully capable of handling the task.

"I don't see any more loitering at the Long Reach Village Center than I do out at River Hill or over in Wilde Lake. It just appears to me that we get picked on," Taylor said. "If you want to see real crime, I grew up in New York City - that's crime."

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