A meeting to address public safety concerns in Long Reach raised issues of image and community-police relations on Friday, Aug. 5.
The meeting, organized by County Council Chairman Calvin Ball in response to the July 27 stabbing death of Long Reach resident Christian Lendell Hall, 17, drew about 30 community members. Another Columbia teenager, Xavier Trevon Bates, 18, has been charged with murder in Hall's death.
Howard County police presented figures showing that crime in the neighborhood is down compared to last year. Capt. Dan Coon said that drug-related arrests were down 24 percent, robberies were down from 16 to six and disorderly conduct incidents had decreased from 133 to 123.
But Long Reach residents and police alike indicated there needed to be better communication between officers and the community for crime to continue to decrease.
Long Reach Village Board member Josh Friedman said he found the police to be generally "action-oriented," but had issues with 911 operators when he called to report suspicious activity.
Friedman said operators seemed skeptical and asked a lot of questions. "I think that's a huge disconnect and causes people to give up," he said.
Katrina Waldon, another Long Reach resident, said she sensed a bias against Long Reach from operators, law enforcement and the rest of the county.
"I think people automatically judge: 'Oh, Long Reach,' " she said. "But it's still Columbia. It's still Howard County."
Coon stressed that the best way to fight crime was to report incidents as soon as possible. Crime reports are one of the ways police can identify problem areas when they are deciding how to allocate patrols.
"Please don't be intimidated. Please don't wait until the next day to call," he said.
Joan Michaelson, president of the Heatherstone Condo Association, echoed Coon's advice. A decade ago, she said, drug dealers and gangs were a common sight near her home. She said she called the police nearly every day.
"The one thing that the police have always stressed is you've got to call them," she said. "And that's how they cleaned up this mess 10 years ago."