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Havre de Grace residents praise their police during National Night Out

Chrystal Morris had a dim view of police officers for many years, but that changed after she and her son moved to Havre de Grace and met the officers of the Havre de Grace Police Department.

"I saw them as the bad guy until I met them," Morris, 48, said as officers interacted with her and her neighbors in the Somerset Manor community during National Night Out Tuesday evening.

"Honest to God, they have changed my outlook on police officers, they truly have," she added.

Havre de Grace Police officers, along with their Maryland Transportation Authority Police counterparts who patrol the Route 40 Hatem Memorial Bridge between Havre de Grace and Perryville, met with residents of Somerset Manor and the Ontario-Otsego neighborhood.

City leaders, including Mayor Bill Martin, Council President David Glenn and Councilwoman Monica Worrell also attended the events.

National Night Out is observed across the country in early August as an opportunity for local police to meet with members of their community, plus residents can meet their neighbors.

Morris and her 8-year-old son, Logan, participated in Night Out at Somerset Manor, which is operated by the Havre de Grace Housing Authority.

"It's a great community, it really is," Morris said.

Logan rode around the parking lot on his bike, and city and police leaders stepped in — along with his mother — when he fell of his bike and hurt his ankle. Worrell tended to Logan and took him to put on a bandage.

"This is our first real home since he's been born," Morris said.

Morris said she and her son lived in shelters before they came to Somerset Manor two-and-a-half years ago.

She noted her prior experiences did not help promote her trust in police officers.

The Havre de Grace Police Department's emphasis on community policing changed her view, however.

"They're not so much about arresting people," Morris said. "They're about bettering the community and finding ways and resources to better yourself."

She praised city officers for their regular interactions with residents.

"They don't look down on us for being in low-income housing or our backgrounds," Morris said.

She chatted with Cpl. Dan Petz, the department's liaison to Somerset Manor and the head of community policing.

"I live in Havre de Grace, so I have a vested interested in making it safe," Petz told her.

Petz meets with residents once a month to discuss any concerns and report on activity in their neighborhood; a police captain serve's on the community's board; officers have helped residents establish a neighborhood watch, plus they attend community events, according to Nicki Biggs, executive director of the Havre de Grace Housing Authority.

"We think that our community has seen, over the past six years, a huge improvement in safety and that is because of the relationship with the police department," Biggs said.

The Housing Authority owns and operates the 60-unit Somerset Manor, which is the only public housing development in Harford County.

Police and city officials spent about an hour and a half at Somerset Manor on the northwest side of the city, and then they moved on to Ontario-Otsego on the northeast side.

Ontario-Otsego visit

Officials met with leaders of the Ontario-Otsego Positive Action Committee, the neighborhood association known as OPAC, and other residents.

They spent about 90 minutes to two hours there; Ontario Street was closed between the intersections with Adams Street and Stokes Street.

"We have problems, but we also know we have the know how for helping the police keep it a great place to live," Sarah Fields, of OPAC, said.

Residents Mike and Stacey Davis participated in their first Night Out Tuesday.

"We met some of our neighbors who we've never met before," Mike Davis said.

The Davises reported their own positive experience with the city police department. They were walking their dog near the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House about two months ago when they noticed some youths walking behind them.

Before they knew it, the kids had "jumped the fence and were playing in the boats" on the Lock House grounds, Mike Davis recalled.

They contacted the police when they got home via the city's non-emergency number. They saw officers at the Lock House when they checked about 10 minutes later.

"They actually did follow up on [the call], which was nice of them," Mike Davis said.

"In a timely fashion, too," Stacey Davis added.

Vincent and Yvonne Austin, who live in Bulle Rock and are pastors of the Agape Church on Ontario Street, talked with Senior Officer Krevin McArthur and Sgt. James Genovese, of the MdTA Police.

Vincent Austin is an active-duty solider assigned to Aberdeen Proving Ground. Yvonne Austin owns First Lady's Hair & Beauty Salon in Aberdeen.

"It's just awesome that the police officers are welcoming, and they're offering their assistance to our ministry and the people of the church to give us information," Yvonne said.

McArthur and Genovese said they both participated in their first Night Out Tuesday.

"It's probably one of my favorite parts of the job, interaction with people on this level, under these circumstances," Genovese said.

Neighborhood resident Mitchel Fujiwara attended with Benny, his American bulldog. He was one of several residents who brought their leashed dogs to the block party.

Fujiwara saw Night Out as an opportunity to introduce Benny to more neighbors, who could then recognize him if he gets out of the yard and return him.

He said he sees local police all the time, as he walks his dog "all times of the night and day."

City police Capt. Wayne Young represented Chief Teresa Walter, who is out of town on a family matter, Young said.

Young said he talked with several people about their concerns Tuesday, people who would not otherwise call the police.

He said Somerset Manor and Ontario-Otsego have been "the mainstay" of Night Out in Havre de Grace over the years.

"Just get out and see people you haven't seen in a while," Young said.

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