Tiny suburb considers private policing

BALTIMORE CRIME BEAT

November 07, 2008|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,peter.hermann@baltsun.com

The village of Oakside is a suburb within a suburb within a suburb - a pinprick of a development lost in the sprawl of Owings Mills, well past the mall and the familiar big-box stores, backed against an environmental preserve that prevents building any farther west.

It consists of 149 neatly kept townhouses surrounded by hundreds more that are unique only in the names of their neighborhoods - Persimmon Park, Sherwood Hill, Wainwright.

Oakside does not have a crime problem. The treasurer of the community association wants to make that abundantly clear. But he's checked the Internet, and he's worried. "You can see some crime edging its way toward us," Richard N. Maracotta told me. "Every crime, from auto theft to break-ins, even some assaults."

Maracotta and other association members want to hire a private security company for nighttime patrols. It would cost the association $39,000 a year and raise each homeowner's fees about $20 a month.

Linda Waxter, who has lived in Oakside since 1995, is leading the charge against the proposal, which comes up for a vote Nov. 19. She says it's useless to patrol her tiny neighborhood, and not all the others in the sprawling New Town Owings Mills development.

"All of New Town should be included, the businesses and the residents," Waxter says. "That would lower the cost and expand the security. It just doesn't seem like a practical expense at this point. I walk my dog here every day, and I've never encountered or heard of any problems. ... Show me the need."

Communities in and around Baltimore are grappling with similar questions.

The Charles Village Community Benefits District in North Baltimore assesses residents a tax, about $175 to $200 a year, to pay for security officers, cars, uniforms, cell phones and insurance. Public safety eats ups two-thirds of the district's $657,000 budget.

Crofton in Anne Arundel County spends more than a half-million dollars on a six-member armed police force to supplement protection provided by the county.

In Towson, residents have banded together to form a nightly Citizens On Patrol. Baltimore County police spokesman Bill Toohey said the department urges communities concerned about crime to start there. "Number one, they work," he said. "Number two, they bring people together. But they take work. You have to get people to commit to doing it and to do it."

I asked Toohey to check on crime in Oakside. "We know of no significant crime trends in that community," he said.

Maracotta says the previous board hired a security guard to sit for two months outside a house whose occupants were suspected of dealing drugs. "Eventually, they were effective in getting them out of there," he said. "It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it."

More permanent protection for $20 a month, Maracotta says, is a cheap price to pay for peace of mind. "Our rationale is that we're not going to wait until there is a problem."

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