Village loitering chronic

Despite police efforts, evening hours challenge Long Reach youths

August 18, 2006|By TYRONE RICHARDSON | TYRONE RICHARDSON,SUN REPORTER

After 4-year-old Fahad Islam was injured by a stray bullet as he sat coloring inside his home near Long Reach Village Center early this year, Howard County Police promised residents plans to make the area safer.

But village officials remain concerned about loitering, a chronic complaint around the village center, despite assurances from police that overall crime in Long Reach remains under control.

"What people are saying is that between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. there are activities in the village center parking lot," Bridget R. Mugane, a village board member, told acting police Chief William McMahon after being updated on the crime situation this week.

Public safety issues in the community have been under extra scrutiny since a Jan. 20 fight at an Exxon station near the village center spilled over into a wooden area nearby and resulted in gunfire, police have said. During the melee, a stray bullet broke through the front window of Islam's house on Airybrink Lane and struck the child in the head.

During a community meeting days later, police promised the community extra patrols and additional video cameras in the village center.

At Tuesday's Long Reach Village board meeting, McMahon gave the panel a quarterly progress report and told village officials that "statistically, we are not seeing high numbers of crime ... in Long Reach."

McMahon, accompanied by Pfc. James Iacarino, an officer assigned to the village, described some of the enforcement efforts continuing in the village center:

A mobile video camera system at locations around the village center that McMahon said is capable of being monitored from police patrol cars, substations and headquarters. McMahon said the mobile cameras are being used there but have also been removed for use at other areas in the county.

Enforcement of village center bans on people who have been identified as causing problems.

Alerting residential leasing companies about criminal incidents that could lead to the eviction of wrong-doers who are bound by the bylaws of federal subsidized housing contracts.

Talking with Safeway about removing the railing at its entrance. Iacarino said people congregate around the Safeway and lean on the railing.

Image as problem

As for loitering, Iacarino said some people simply think that any group of teens is up to no good, and some village officials agree that the problem may be one of image.

"I think a lot of it is perception, and perception is harder to fight than reality and it's hard to get that thought out of people's minds," Henry F. Dagenais, Columbia Association board member from Long Reach, said yesterday. "Just because they are standing around there, they are not breaking the law. But it's the perception."

McMahon told the village board that enforcement is just one deterrent to crime. He urged the community to take action by providing things for young people to do.

Activities needed

Marvin Lynn, a village resident who chaired a 2005 study on youth problems in Long Reach, has said that activities are a way to thwart loitering and other problems in the village center.

Lynn, who is an assistant professor of minority and urban education at the University of Maryland, College Park, said he is seeking to form partnerships with agencies and educational institutions to offer activities for young people and provide them with job-training skills.

"The issue is still that there is a lack of things to do in the village," Lynn said. "It's still the issue of what to do about the nonschool hours. It's boredom and the same ol' same ol'."

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

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