Sprucing up in effort to trash crime

Arundel police join residents in Brooklyn Park spring cleaning

March 29, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

Justin Pfeiler had a broad smile as he added a sagging bookshelf to a growing pile of garbage in the back alley of the Brooklyn Park rowhouse he shares with his mother.

He was taking out the trash at the request of an Anne Arundel County police officer who had knocked on his door minutes earlier and offered to whisk away his unwanted detritus.

"I've never heard of something like this," Pfeiler, 18, said.

Pfeiler's piles included old speakers, an end table, an ottoman and a ratty rug. "I've just started bringing out all of my junk, and I have a lot of it here," he said.

The police were supervising a "spring cleanup" in the neighborhood near Park Elementary School - a part of the county near Baltimore City that they have identified as a crime area.

Three county police officers knocked on doors and followed a garbage truck as county workers and Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services inmates gathered loose trash from the back alleys and chucked it into a county pickup truck.

"We want [residents] to know that we care and the county cares," said Capt. Randall R. Jones Sr., the commander of the Northern District. "It is very basic: If the community owns it - and is willing to take care of its problems - a lot of them get solved."

"A lot of crime and disorderly behavior is associated with trash," he said.

In the alleys, workers pulled a bicycle, wood frames, broken glass, metal tubes and other scrap out of the brush. Police noted cars - some without license plates - that were parked in back lawns.

Much of the population of the area is transient, police said. Many people rent, and landlords lease their property on a week-to-week basis, said Cpl. Robert Moore, who is assigned to the district's special investigative unit.

The job wasn't always pleasant. In one alley, a pile of garbage began to give off a putrid smell. "Something just got stirred up, or it is warming up," said Officer Brian Daughters as he made a face. Daughters had been pulled off his regular beat to help with the cleanup.

Although clearing up other people's trash doesn't seem like a plum assignment for the officers, they were upbeat about doing the work. "It's something that breaks up the monotony," Daughters said. "This is when an officer gets to do something other than locking people up."

Part of the reason for the cleanup was visibility. Officer Patrick T. Hogan, an officer assigned to community policing in the area, said: "The more they get to know me - the more they talk to me. I'm not just an officer driving around in a big ol' car."

Hogan said that most of the time people in the community know who is committing crimes. If they trust him and know about him, they might come to him with leads and suspects, he said.

In the past, the officers organized a spring cleanup on a weekend so more residents could participate. This one was more hastily organized, but several residents came out to the Northern District's substation for coffee and doughnuts.

"I do clean up these areas all the time," said Patricia Keller, 70, who lives in the neighborhood. "We have had a problem with homeless people living in the woods," she said. "I'm happy [the police are] here."

Not everyone was overjoyed to see the police. In an alley, one woman yelled from window at officers after they asked her about a van parked in her back lot - the van had Washington plates and Maryland registration stickers.

"Some people don't like us no matter what we do," Hogan said.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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