Property managers welcome partnership with police

May 24, 2011

The recent violent crimes in the neighborhood between Annapolis Road and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway have spurred an increased police presence in the area.

But the property management of Highland Village said it will maintain its approach for keeping the area safe.

"The events that have happened recently are no different than the crime that's been going on in this area for some time," said Tom Rucker, vice president of real estate operations at Sawyer Realty Holdings. "It's just happened close together, which drew a lot of attention.

"We find that by working with the local police departments, working with the community, working with the residents, you end up yielding positive results," Rucker said.

The community has seen four murders since May 21, 2010, including that of 17-year-old Keon Dobbs, who was shot March 22 near the intersection of McDowell Lane and Songbird Circle.

Dobbs' murder resulted in the police response.

"That's when we did a couple of things," said Capt. John Spiroff, commander of the Wilkens Police Station. "(We) increased our enforcement on all shifts and influxed the area with more plainclothes officers as well."

Spiroff added that police have also increased traffic enforcement in the area.

He did not have statistics available on the results of those efforts, as of May 16..

"That whole area, there's good people down there," Spiroff said. "I'm not going to let these criminals turn this neighborhood upside down."

Donzell Jackson, who has lived on Songbird Circle for five years, said he has noticed the expanded police presence and for the moment, it provides comfort.

"Ever since the (March shooting), everything's been pretty cool around here," Jackson said. "You never know what's going to happen, you know what I mean. But with their presence, it does feel safer.

"You see (the police) more often and you see them not only during the day but at night time, too."

On April 5, Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District that includes the Baltimore Highlands area, met with Jennie Hawkins, the property manager of Highland Village.

"I've been very happy with (Sawyer Realty Holding's) response," said Quirk about the owners of Highland Village, which has houses on McDowell Lane, Twin Circle, Songbird Circle, Virginia Avenue and several other streets."They clearly are working with us in partnership to really try to bring people together and keep the area as strong as we absolutely can."

Sawyer Realty Holdings bought Highland Village — which comprises 1,098 town houses, about 3,000 residents and 65 acres of land — in 2002.

Hawkins said when police inform them of crime on the property, Sawyer Realty Holdings can force the responsible tenant to vacate.

Residents' review

"The partnership with the Baltimore County Police Department is critical," Hawkins said. "If there are warrants executed, contraband or otherwise, I still want to know about it.

"It leads back to our lease. And if there are violations of the lease, people are issued a 14-day notice to vacate."

When issuing the notice to vacate, Hawkins said they will cite the case number and the section of the lease that the tenant violated.

As of May 15, no statistics on the number of notice to vacates distributed based on criminal charges could be provided.

"We want to make sure the 1 percent bad population aren't ruining it for the other 99 percent who live there," Quirk said. "It's truly a public-private type of collaboration we're working."

Hawkins said 40 percent of the people who attempt to move into Highland Village are turned away because they do not pass the mandatory criminal background check, though they pass the income and credit check.

Hawkins also noted that current residents are likely to stay.

"In terms of people leaving Highland Village because of any incidents that have occurred, two people have actually moved out citing those incidents for the reasons they want to leave," Hawkins said.

Shawna Jennings moved from Highland Village about two years ago because of safety concerns.

"I didn't want to live out here no more," said Jennings as she sat with her 1-year-old son, Antwan, on a grassy patch along McDowell Lane on May 13. "It started getting crazy around here, so I decided to move. I didn't want to raise my son around here.

"It wasn't bad, but it wasn't somewhere I wanted to raise my son."

Bobby West, who has lived on Twin Circle Way with his wife, Diane, for 18 years, said he plans to move, but it has nothing to do with the safety of the neighborhood.

"My wife and I are looking to get out because we've been here for a long time, so we're looking for a house within the area simply because I work at (Baltimore-Washington International Airport)," said West, who said he hopes to move before the end of the year.

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