Those are some examples of the crime the City of Westminster has reckoned with this summer during a year that has mostly conformed to the crime trends of the past half decade: a steady decrease in serious crime.
Part 1 Crime, which includes murder, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault and auto theft, among other offenses, decreased more than 25 percent from 2013 through 2017, Westminster Police Department statistics show.
And year-to-date crime statistics through the end of July show 2018 hasn’t deviated from the five-year trend. Part 1 crime dropped 15 percent over the first seven months of this year, compared to a year prior, police data show.
But residents are still concerned.
Westminster resident Darcel Harris took her frustrations about drug activity depleting the quality of life on Pennsylvania Avenue before the Westminster mayor and Common Council at one of their bimonthly meetings in July.
Residents of The Greens neighborhood organized a meeting with police in early August after a property crime spree. And dozens showed up and spoke out at an August council meeting following the late July shootings.
“I couldn’t go home because [police] had the bloodhounds in my yard … after the second shooting,” Chris Bartosik, of East Green Street, told the council on Aug. 13.
The shootings — and crime involving guns — are of particular concern to the community, council and police department.
“Fortunately this is a very quiet town,” Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding said in an interview with the Times. “Unfortunately we’ve had more gun violence than we’re used to.
“And I certainly understand the community’s concern.”
Mayor, council and the public will have a better sense of residents’ crime worry after the council meeting Monday, Aug. 27.
The recently formed Public Safety Advisory Council is scheduled to present the findings of a survey of more than 1,000 Westminster residents, said Councilman Tony Chiavacci, council liaison to the predominantly citizen-run safety committee.
Spaulding, Chiavacci and company were swift to react.
“I was in [Spaulding’s] office at 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning [July 28],” Chiavacci said. “The conversation went something along the lines of ‘let’s get on the phone with the state police, let’s get on the phone with the sheriff’s [office] and let’s get the troops rolling in.’”
Spaulding did just that, coordinating a collaborative effort that saw a beefed-up police presence in parts of downtown and other recently crime-ridden areas. The police chief said law enforcement firmly believes that the increase in crime is directly related to drug activity.
His department is modest in size, employing 44 officers, 28 of who are assigned to patrol, Spaulding said, noting “on an average shift we have four police officers and a supervisor on duty.”
The reinforcements have included marked police cars and undercover officers serving as the “eyes and ears” on the ground.
“They’re pointing out cars that they see are involved in potential drug activity, they’re pointing out individuals they see,” Spaulding said. “Then we have other units that come in and will try to intercept those people and then we’ll apply the law as it exists.”
“I’ve definitely recognized more of a police presence,” Jessica Bahorich, who’s lived on East Green Street for seven years, told the council Aug. 13.
Calling on bigger law enforcement agencies appears to have paid dividends, as the collaborative effort has yielded about 30 arrests, nine of which were arrests for felony possession of drugs or possession with intent to distribute, as of Aug. 20, the police chief said.
“It stands out that we have to use all the other agencies to get everything under control,” Bartosik told the Times in a phone interview Aug. 24.
Bartosik has noticed and appreciates the increased presence of multiple agencies, he added, but wonders what will happen when the sheriff and state police scale back support.
Multiple cars have been taken or broken into this year. However, police data show that thefts from auto and auto theft crime over the first seven months of 2018 is equal to last year’s count. There have been 56 thefts from auto and 12 stolen cars from Jan. 1 to July 31, according to police records.
Many of the car-related crime incidents have occurred during the summer. But that’s normal, Spaulding said, as this type of crime is cyclical and happens in spurts.
“We know that when it’s hot outside and summertime, crime goes up,” Chiavacci said. “People are out and about, they’re more active. That’s not just Westminster, that’s universal.”
However, in regards to gun crime, it’s not entirely clear what’s caused the spike this year, though Spaulding suspects it’s akin to trends he’s seen many times throughout his 14-year tenure as chief, he said. That is, when new drug dealers come to town, violence usually follows.
“Drug dealers from large metropolitan or urban areas find that it’s a lot safer here. They can sell their drugs for higher dollars than they can” in large cities, Spaulding said. “And when that happens and they’re interacting or conflicting with our local drug dealers, then we see a spike in violence.”
Chiavacci agreed, reemphasizing the importance of an active police force.
“We’ve got to make it painful for [drug dealers] to come out here,” Chiavacci said. “Make it ‘OK, yeah, you can get a little more money and you might not have to fight with other drug dealers for your territory, but jeez these cops out here in Westminster are all over it.”
The reality of drug-related crime, Chiavacci said, is that “it’s never going to go away, we’re never gonna completely solve it.”
Spaulding said the multi-agency effort is scheduled to continue through the end of September, at which point the partners will re-evaluate the state of crime in Westminster.
“I feel really comfortable that we’ve made inroads to diminish the potential for future incidents of this nature from happening,” Spaulding said.
The veteran police chief explained that he couldn’t share specifics because many of the investigations remain open.
“I’ve have really never felt unsafe at my house,” Bahorich said. But, “When it’s time for the state police or the sheriff to go back… what then?”