Call for a crime-free Edgewood

County executive, residents to have discussion about gangs, police

October 09, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

When he appeared before the County Council in mid-August, Mark Franz said the problems facing his neighborhood in Edgewood were worsening to the point of a potential countywide epidemic. Residents are told by police to stay in their homes, he said, while gangs run wild amid an insufficient police presence.

Two months later, he spoke at a council meeting again. Noticeably shaken, he said he had been harassed since his first appearance, with feces thrown at his door, neighbors calling him a racist and another allegedly attacking him. He will probably have to move out of the community, he told the council, but he isn't done trying to fix its problems.

Edgewood residents, spurred by heightened concerns of crime and gangs, have been drawing increasing attention to the troubled area. Wednesday, county and community leaders, including County Executive David R. Craig, will meet for a round- table discussion on how to revitalize the neighborhood, the beginning of what officials hope will be a continuing collaboration.

In an interview, Craig said he hopes to relocate some county services to the area, and added that he believes the crime problem has been overstated.

"Edgewood is not as bad a community as the headlines would make it out to be," Craig said.

Located along Harford County's "Bay Corridor" of Route 7 and Pulaski Highway, Edgewood has nearly double the residents of any of the county's three municipalities, according to data from the 2000 Census. It relies on the county for its services, including police, who respond to 39,000 calls there annually -- roughly one-quarter of the total calls in the county.

Despite being home to the southern precinct of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, Edgewood has long been the center of the county's drug activity. Gangs have set up shop in recent years and have been blamed for the shooting death of a cab driver last year, as well as a slew of other incidents.

A countywide anti-gang task force, which was established in January after the fatal shooting of 37-year-old Derald Howard Guess, the father of nine children, has a nerve center in an Edgewood townhouse and was responsible for apprehending the gang's alleged leadership last month.

Wednesday's roundtable is the latest in a series of efforts to address larger issues within the community. There was a movement in 1997 to incorporate Edgewood into a town of 40,000, allowing it to collect taxes, choose a council and mayor and form a police department.

In 2000, it was the subject of the county's first community-level revitalization plan, which sought to turn the dense townhouse community into a network of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and "Main Streets."

County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Democrat who represents Edgewood and Joppatowne, said residents have met regularly to discuss problems.

Craig, who took over in July, said he's focused on bringing more county services to the area -- such as code enforcement -- which he said was served "haphazardly" by previous administrations.

But increased police protection isn't on the horizon -- Craig said the county's Southern Precinct doesn't have the capacity for more officers. "If we gave them any more [officers], it'd be a lost cause," he said.

However, officials are looking into forming a Central Precinct to serve Bel Air and Fallston. That, in turn, would give the officers in the southern part of the county more of an emphasis on Joppatowne and Edgewood.

Chris Biggs, co-chairman of the Edgewood Community Council, said certain areas of Edgewood have been problematic and he thinks their issues are solvable.

"Edgewood's a great place to live," said Biggs, an aide to Republican state Sen. Nancy Jacobs who grew up in the Harford Squares neighborhood in Edgewood. "You just have areas where people aren't taking hold of their community."

Biggs supports increased lighting and a program to help renters become homeowners, which he said could instill a greater sense of community pride and responsibility.

But Franz's troubles are "deja vu" for longtime resident and friend Mike Kauzlarich, who says drug dealings in front of his home led him several years ago to invite county officials not just to the community, but into his living room.

"The key to that was, once the neighborhood knew that the county was behind it, that put everybody on notice," said Kauzlarich.

He says the county needs to come to the aid of Franz, an artist and musician who has put himself in danger to help others.

"I'd ask our county leaders: Tell me what you're going to do to protect the individuals willing to step up when there's a problem?"

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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