Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane vows his officers will do what it takes to drive the criminal element responsible for the recent spike in violence in Edgewood, that includes several shootings and a murder in the past couple of weeks, out of the community.
"This is not going to be a show of force where we're in a couple of days and we leave. We are in this for the long haul," Bane told about 40 people who attended a community meeting at the Edgewood Recreation Center Wednesday evening. "We are in here for, well, we won't go into how long we're going to be here, but we're actually going to be here for as long as it takes."
"We have to get the message to the criminal element in this community and other communities that you do not own this community, it belongs to the people, and the Sheriff's Office is going to do whatever it can to make sure that that happens," Bane said.
Bane elaborated on his summer initiative addressing violence and crime in Edgewood, saying that it would be a large police presence, and pointed to Capt. Jon Krass, the Southern Precinct Commander, whom he said will be the main contact person for the initiative.
Bane added that the initiative would not leave other areas in the county unprotected and said deputies would be putting in a lot of time "over and above what they normally do as a part of their duties."
"This is going to cost overtime and it's going to take a vast amount of resources," Bane said. "We are focusing a tremendous amount of resources and we are going to be spending a tremendous amount of money to get this area where it needs to be."
Capt. Duane Williams from the Special Investigations Division told the audience about the work his division is doing in Edgewood, adding the caveat that most of it was undercover or wiretap-related and, thus, the community wouldn't know much about it.
He said the division had secured about 16 felony indictments with about five more pending, and also had executed six search and seizure warrants in Edgewood.
"That just gives you a rough idea of what we've been doing down here. Our theme up there is it's not the ones you see, it's the ones you don't see that you got to be concerned about, and that's what we do," Williams said. "So, we do work behind the scenes with these drug investigations, but trust me, we are out there and we are working these investigations."
Williams asked the audience to come to him if they have any information in relation to drug cases, noting, "we are very dependent upon your tips."
Wednesday's community meeting was held at the Edgewood Recreation Center on Brookside Drive in the Edgewater Village neighborhood, not far from where a 24-year-old man was found shot to death June 21. It was the second murder in the community this year.
Shaneise Ware, of Fountain Rock Way, recounted two shootings close to where she lives. In one shooting, Ware said it took police more than 20 minutes to get there. The second shooting took place right in front of her house.
"It was a good thing that I was taking the trash out that day, because if one of my boys would've taken out the trash, they would've actually seen this man laying outside," Ware said. "When I went outside, I actually had to administer CPR to this man. He actually lived and I pray to God that I went outside."
Ware said that conditions on Fountain Rock Way were "terrible," with streetlights knocked down, busted windows and kids jumping on cars. She asked how long response times to a 911 call should be.
Bane responded that response times could vary because of the nature of the call and that officers may be backed up with other calls, and that some calls require multiple squad cars. Bane cited a statistic that there are 0.8 police officers available for patrol per 1,000 people in Harford County, while the state and national averages are 2.7 per 1,000.
"With limited resources, there's only so much we can do," Bane said, noting that despite the poor ratio, Harford still had the second lowest crime rate in the state, while nearby Baltimore County was ranked 16th, Cecil County was ranked 20th and Baltimore City was ranked 24th.
"That's good policing, that's good leadership, and that's smart use of resources," he said.
Every division involved
Bane introduced Capt. John Bowman from Special Operations as "the one who put the plan together" and is another point of contact for the initiative. Bowman said the initiative will draw from every division in the agency, not just the Southern Precinct, which includes Edgewood, or Special Operations.
Bowman said traffic enforcement would be increased, as well as motorcycle patrols, but also said he couldn't go into detail about the plan to ensure it would be successful.
Cpl. Eric Gonzalez, of the Gang Suppression Unit, stressed the need for community participation in combating gangs, saying, "everyone needs to step up to the plate."
"If everyone were to come forward today and tell us what they knew about crime in Edgewood, we would be the busiest police department in the entire country," Gonzalez said. "However, we would also clean up the streets pretty quickly, because it's not that we don't act on anything."
Bane announced there also would be a town hall meeting for just the Edgewood community this fall at the Southern Precinct station.
The sheriff also spoke about the homeowners association for the Edgewater Village area, which he said was "practically defunct," and the potential it had to help the area with the poor state that the neighborhood's homes and property were kept in.
"I don't think that you realize how much power and authority your homeowner's association has," Bane said. "There are things your homeowner's association can do independent of the police to take care of the elements that are undesirable in your community."
Bane also encouraged members of the community to attend Edgewood Community Council meetings, which are held the second Wednesday of every month, typically at the Sheriff's Office Southern Precinct in Edgewood.
"I think there are 34,000 people in the community of Edgewood. This is the biggest unincorporated community in Harford County," Bane said. "About one-eighth of the population in Harford County is in the community of Edgewood. That is enough political clout to get things done in your neighborhood. But the community doesn't take advantage of that."
During questions and comments from the audience, Bane introduced Mildred Samy, co-founder of MOMS (Mothers of Murdered Sons & Daughters of Maryland) as "that crazy lady who drives through the neighborhood lady with that horn," which drew some laughs.
Samy mentioned that it was a difficult time for her, as she was a survivor of the violence, but she "was tired of Edgewood being looked down at" in the media. While acknowledging Edgewood had an issue with drugs, she asked: "Who are coming here to buy the drugs?"
"You see the police up and down [Route 40] stopping cars. I want to see the cars being stopped down 152 towards Forest Hill!" Samy said emphatically. "Edgewood is the Safeway, or the Giant or the Macy's. Who are the customers that are making Edgewood the way it is? That's what I want to see publicized."
Daphne Alston, another co-founder of MOMS also spoke, lamenting the lack of community turnout.
"We're not reaching the masses," Alston said. "How many people [came] that live behind Giant [the area where the latest violence occurred]?"
Only two members of the audience raised their hands. Alston also lamented the lack of African-American police officers, and also wondered why there was less of a focus on how drugs and guns arrive in Edgewood.
"Our children do not make drugs and they do not manufacture guns," Alston said. "Now why are they so plentiful? Nobody has that answer."