Teen's death latest violent crime in Edgewood 'killing zone'

16-year-old Joppatowne High School senior killed on front steps of his home

  • Tamar Pair sits outside her suburban house near a memorial for her son, 16-year-old Derrick Wingate, who was shot to death on his front lawn Oct. 2.
Tamar Pair sits outside her suburban house near a memorial for… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
November 07, 2010|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

After Tamar Pair's son turned two, she decided to leave Baltimore City, seeking quieter, safer streets.

"I wanted to give him options," Pair said of the decision to move to the suburbs. "I didn't want him where there was liquor stores on the corner," she said.

But, Pair said, "It doesn't seem like it made a difference."

In October, her son, 16-year-old Derrick Wingate, was gunned down in front of their Edgewood home. The shooting was the second homicide in Edgewood this year and the sixth shooting in a twomile radius that Sheriff L. Jesse Bane said has been "a killing zone."

The violence is continuing, despite the urban policing strategies the sheriff's department has adopted to target gangs and guns, leading residents to wonder whether urban-style crime, albeit on a smaller scale, is invading a suburban haven.

Edgewood is joining the list of communities far from the most dangerous neighborhoods in downtown Baltimore where residents and officials are struggling to get a handle on violence before it spins out of control.

The trend is frustrating residents like Shedrick E. Cain, who moved to Edgewood in 1990 and said the area reminded him of his "small, rural" hometown in Virginia.

"The population has grown. Crime can be just about anywhere. It doesn't matter if you are in the city or suburbs," he said. "It's individuals who make bad decisions."

But suburbs can take advantage of community strengths that elude some urban neighborhoods where blight has been a fixture for decades, experts say.

In suburbs, "people in the community will get together and try to get a solution for this situation, in order to deter and prevent future criminal events," said David Maimon, a University of Maryland criminal justice professor.

He said that in suburbs, social cohesion is a force that can be used to prevent crime, and that residents are more willing to intervene "on behalf of the public good."

Harford County officials say several factors are contributing to the rise in violence, including increased development that has brought an influx of new residents, many of whom are renters and aren't as invested in the community.

The county of 218,000 is growing, and police note that violent crimes are occurring only in about four or five neighborhoods. Edgewood is home to 23,000 people, about 10 percent of the county's population.

When the violence began to spike three years ago, it was mostly occurring in 15 Edgewood "hotspots," including Edgewater Village — an older community of townhouses — leaving most of Edgewood, including Pair's neighborhood of Woodbridge, untouched.

It was the daytime killing of 25-year-old Samuel David Horne in 2007 — a year in which four people were killed in Edgewood — that caught the attention of the community. Horne's mother, just like Pair, had sought a safer, quieter place to raise her children. Horne was shot less than a mile from where Pair's son was shot and killed last month.

"There was not any organized effort to deal with it," Bane, the county's sheriff, said of the crime surge three years ago. "Things took law enforcement by surprise. There needed to be strategies."

Bane, who won re-election last week by three percentage points, targeted gangs, illegal drugs and escalating gun violence. He promised more deputies on foot patrol, instituted a zero-tolerance policy and installed surveillance cameras in troubled areas.

The crime statistics for what is typically considered a rural county seem startling. The sheriff's office has seized 754 guns throughout the county since 2008. The Harford County Task Force says it conducted six wiretap investigations over the last three years, resulting in 222 arrests with 38 of those indicted on federal charges and 184 on state charges.

Bane boasts of maintaining a gang unit, and of the creation of the violent street crimes unit and a mobile command post "to target areas where a concerted police presence makes a difference."

On Brookside Drive, where Horne and another man had been killed, the department has placed surveillance cameras, which Bane said has kept the block free of shootings.

The police departments that operate in Harford County have adapted a Compstat initiative, or "countystat," similar to Baltimore's, to track crime trends. Bane said crime overall has dropped in recent years.

"We must be doing something right to be able to record a significant decrease in crime," he said, citing an 11.2 percent decrease in overall crime, according to statistics from the Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention. There has only been one homicide in Edgewood in each of the last two years.

Residents say the efforts have made a difference, though others say that the violence has simply moved. Neighboring Joppatowne had no homicides in 2007, but has had one each year since.

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