Officials support HotSpot efforts

Robey, Livesay committed to anti-crime programs

`I believe it's working'

Executive says he'll find funds if state ends help

Howard County

January 02, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County is strongly committed to continuing its HotSpot police programs in Harper's Choice and Long Reach villages - with or without state funding, said Police Chief Wayne Livesay and County Executive James N. Robey.

"It's doing a lot of good," Livesay said. "I believe it's working."

He added that he likes the concept so much that the county used funds from the Horizon Foundation to begin a similar project in North Laurel and would like to put an office in the Oakland Mills Village Center.

Robey said through a spokeswoman that he is committed to supporting Livesay, and that he will find county money to replace the $240,000 in state funds the county receives.

The program came first to Long Reach and then to Harper's Choice after rising concern about crime, drug dealing and loitering youths around those village centers.

The 5-year-old HotSpot program was created by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who lost her bid to become governor in November.

Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. derided the program during the campaign. With a huge state budget shortfall looming, he is expected to let it die. Ehrlich's transition office has refused to discuss the fate of specific programs.

Baltimore's Police Department announced this week that it is pulling 25 officers out of the 12 city HotSpots, and the $7 million program that funds 62 offices statewide is due to expire June 30.

The program was not loved by all in Baltimore, where former Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, Ehrlich's choice to head the state police, criticized it for inflexibility and tried to remove 13 officers from the program last year. The city reached a separate agreement with the state that ended the program Tuesday.

Juanita Robinson, chairwoman of Columbia's Harper's Choice Village Board, wants the program to stay.

"It's a great program," Robinson said. "It should never stop."

She said Derek Johnson, the HotSpot officer for Harper's Choice, and his predecessors "started a partnership here."

Aided by a probation agent, the HotSpot office in the Harper's Choice Village Center gives residents a place to talk to their own police officer. The program has spawned a citizens' crime patrol, more lights in problem spots and a general feeling that if something goes wrong, a friendly face is a short walk away to help solve the problem.

Livesay acknowledged that some residents didn't like the term HotSpot at first, but "we overcame that."

The program helps focus community and government efforts on small problems that, left unattended, could become big ones. Officers volunteer for the program and get extra training before starting.

"It goes into areas we've defined for various reasons - not just crime - where citizens want to get involved," Livesay said.

The program "brings the [government's] resources to bear at a centralized location," Livesay said, and the county looks for a well-organized community whose residents want to change conditions.

The chief said he is going to look at an empty bank building at Oakland Mills Village Center next week to see whether it can be used for a more visible police presence there.

"Visibility is a large part of it," Livesay said, noting that the Rouse Co. provided free storefront space at the two village centers.

David Hatch, chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board, said a new office at Oakland Mills Village Center would be welcome because the empty apartment the police use for occasional report writing or for interviewing people isn't enough.

"In general, the board is in favor of increased [police] visibility around the village center area," Hatch said.

He said Assistant State's Attorney Lara Weathersbee also visits Oakland Mills and Owen Brown villages several times a week, offering advice and referrals to people who complain about neighborhood problems.

"If people have quality-of-life problems they can come in," Hatch said. The program "brings in a whole range of resources" to help solve community problems.

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