As he touted Baltimore County's record-low homicide rates at a press conference Friday, Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson credited the county's Citizens on Patrol groups with helping police effectively fight crime.
In downtown Towson, an increasingly vibrant area with Towson University and several new developments planned or underway, a dedicated Citizens on Patrol group, Downtown Towson COP, now hopes to further help police stem criminal activity.
"With all the new people coming into Towson, and all the businesses, and some of the issues we've had lately, whatever you can do to make it a safer community is a good thing," said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce. "It's in its infancy, but we just figured anything the business community can do to help make Towson a safe place, we want to do it."
The Downtown Towson COP was restarted in late November after a series of street attacks and robberies near Towson University brought negative attention to the area.
Towson Area Citizens on Patrol President Mike Calwell said a downtown COP existed several years ago, but like other area COPs, the initial struggle to get residents involved was fruitless.
"That fizzled out and got spun back up with all the activity around Towson [University], all the street robberies," Calwell said. "That is really what spurred it."
COP leaders met with Hafford and Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, on Veterans Day to discuss their options. Later in November, the Towson Area COP held a community meeting for residents interested in joining or starting a COP, and the Downtown Towson group grew from there.
Pat France, vice president of Towson Area Citizens on Patrol, said that organization has begun purchasing signs to post around the business district and is in the beginning stages of selecting a leader and finding patrollers.
Though there is typically interest as incidents are occurring and residents are concerned about safety, that buzz can wane once the crimes are solved and criminal activity dies down, Calwell said.
"If it's not constantly in your face … some of that urgency to address the situation goes away, and people kind of walk away from the problem," he said. "People are very interested in getting involved and doing patrols when a lot of things are going on. When it gets quiet, it's a little more challenging."
France said she and a couple other COP members from other communities currently patrol downton Towson. Once the group is up and running with its own patrollers, France said the group can have an impact.
"Hopefully, it will affect [residents] knowing it will be a bit safer because there's another set of eyes out there looking," she said. "People who shop, live and work in downtown Towson, they want to be safe."
Johnson said the groups have an impact as well.
"I think any time you have a number of citizens that are thinking about and focused on public safety, you can enhance the number of eyes and ears in a community," the police chief said. "We're all very busy, we go about our lives, we focus on getting the kids to school, but this group and hundreds of others like it are aware of their surroundings. They think like a cop … They look for things that are unusual for their communities."
Calwell said the Downtown Towson COP is the 25th such group in the Towson area, joining the recently formed Western Towson COP as the newest community groups.
Late last month, Marks honored the COP and community leaders for their collaboration in trying to fight crime in the area.
The councilman honored Greater Towson Council of Community Associations President Paul Hartman, Calwell, France and Towson Area COP Secretary Janice Arcieri as the Fifth District Citizens of the Year for the Towson area.
The awards were presented at the GTCCA Christmas party last month.
"Since my election to the County Council, I have been extraordinarily impressed with the Towson Area Citizens on Patrol, especially over this past year as this organization has stepped up to improve public safety in Greater Towson," Marks said. "This year, we had many challenges related to public safety, and I want to acknowledge both the TACOP and the tireless efforts of Paul Hartman. Paul has been a steadfast, balanced voice of leadership in the Towson community."
Residents and business owners interested in joining the Downtown Towson COP can call Pat France at 410-828-5564.