Residents of the farms, rolling hills and historic villages of Baltimore County's Long Green Valley have long basked in the tranquility that comes from country living. Now, they are increasingly worried about a rash of crime in their remote communities, and are urging police to step up patrols of the area.
In response to the spree, some people have bought weapons to protect themselves, according to a resident, who along with others began to agitate publicly for help after a shootout on Jan. 7 between a burglary suspect and a female homeowner on Glen Arm Road. The intruder carried an AK-47 assault rifle and wore camouflage gear.
"We used to be a quiet town with no crime," said Mike Harris, who for about seven years has lived a mile north of the shootout site. Crime, he added, has risen drastically in the past few months, compared with previous years, when it was "nothing even close" to what it is now. As a result, he said, "there's tons of people out here who are up in arms."
On an average night, Harris said, there are between three and five crimes in the area, usually break-ins of homes or cars. Harris, who along with other members of the residents' association has been trying to keep a tally of crimes, said a police officer had told him at the beginning of the month that there had been more than 100 vehicle break-ins in the previous 60 days.
"This is the extremes people are going to," Harris said. "They're battening down the hatches and buying even more firearms."
At a meeting Tuesday of the Greater Long Green Community Association, residents and business owners asked a Baltimore County police official what the department was doing about the problem.
Capt. Thomas J. Busch, commander of the Parkville precinct, which covers about 54 square miles from the Baltimore City line to the county's northeastern border, told the group that one person might be responsible for many, if not all, the burglaries, a conclusion reached after a break-in on the 11000 block of Glen Arm Road prompted a lead from a pawn shop in Baltimore.
Busch told the residents' group that officers have stepped up patrols of the district. While previously there had been just one patrol car roaming the rural areas at night, he said, now there are two and sometimes three. Crime was lower during the same period a year ago, he said, because heavy snow kept criminals at home. "I pray for blizzards every day," Busch said.
Thefts have "slowed down quite a bit," he said, from a peak "right around the holidays." Residents who for years did not bother to lock their cars and homes are being urged to be more scrupulous about security, said Busch, who noted that only one or two of the recent thefts from cars in Long Green Valley had required breaking a window to get inside.
Lt. Robert McCullough, the department's chief spokesman, said police have charged a person believed responsible for several burglaries, and that investigators have identified a "person of interest" in the auto thefts.
When asked about last month's shooting, McCullough said residents should not be concerned. The woman and the intruder knew each other, he said, calling it an "isolated" incident. The gunman, Robert F. Buss, had met the couple whose house it was, Luigi and Aubrey Alvano, at a hair salon they own in Essex and intended to rob them, McCullough said.
When Aubrey Alvano discovered Buss inside her house, he shot at her and she returned fire but neither person was hit, McCullough said. Buss fled in his pickup truck and was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
At the community meeting, residents applauded Alvano for defending herself. An angry John Connell, a longtime resident who moved to the area "to be away from people," said he would pull a gun on anyone trespassing on his property. Busch suggested calling the police instead, and noted that breaking into a car is a misdemeanor.
Michael B. Goldberg, an attorney with offices in Potomac, said that almost $1,500 worth of property was stolen from his car on the afternoon of Dec. 25, including a "very expensive camera with photos we will never be able to get back" and gifts from and for his family.
An officer went to his house to take a statement from him but, Goldberg said, "countless attempts" to obtain a copy of the police report have been fruitless. Goldberg wrote in an e-mail that the "entire event has forever tainted, at least in part, that time of the year for us."