A Westminster resident raised concerns about increased drug activity in her part of the city at a recent Mayor and Common Council Meeting, prompting police to act.
“The quality of life has gone down the drain on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Darcel Harris, the concerned resident, said at the meeting. “I live across the street from the most inconsiderate [people],” whom she suspects of using and selling drugs.
Harris’ neighbors echoed her concerns in phone interviews with the Times.
“The problem is really bad,” said Sandy Matheson. “It’s serious.”
At the July 9 meeting, Harris, who has lived on Pennsylvania Avenue for more than two decades, described a frightened neighborhood, with parents too concerned to let their kids outside to play.
“It’s summertime and people can’t go out,” she told the council.
Council members said at the meeting they appreciated Harris bringing her concern to their attention. Jeffrey Spaulding, Westminster police chief, was at the July 9 meeting and said he’d reach out to Harris quickly to help address her concerns.
“[Police] were right on the case,” said Matheson, who’s lived on Pennsylvania Avenue for nine years. “They came right on out within the week” that Harris voiced her concerns publicly.
“I was impressed.”
Spaulding updated the mayor and council, at a July 23 council meeting, about his department’s progress addressing the concerns Harris raised two weeks prior.
“Since [the July 9] meeting, I spoke at length with [Harris] to talk about her concerns,” Spaulding said at the July 23 council meeting. “We’ve assigned a liaison officer … to be the liaison for that community. He’s already met with Ms. Harris, and also another individual she referred him to, with specific concerns about what’s going on in the community.”
Matheson said she already spoke with the liaison officer.
“He was very friendly,” Matheson said. And showed “that he was really interested in helping us solve all this drug stuff going on here.”
Another neighbor, Joshua Breznicky, who’s lived on Pennsylvania Avenue for just three months, also met with the liaison.
The officer gave Breznicky a “No Trespassing” sign and told him to post it on his property.
His screen window was pushed in before, he said, and often he’d come home to find his gate agape. None of that has occurred since Westminster Police stepped up its presence.
The department also made contact with two landlords, presumably of the two addresses Harris provided July 9, and is working collaboratively to address concerns, Spaulding said, noting that “we’ve also initiated increased foot patrols and investigative initiatives in the area.”
“You see [the police],” Matheson said. “They’re up and down the sidewalk, riding the little three-wheeler things … and sometimes walking. They’re going through the alleys and looking at the specific places of concern.”
Breznicky echoed Matheson’s account of police canvassing alleyways and areas of concern. He’s also noticed the beefed-up police presence. He works nights and routinely gets home at 2 a.m or after, he said.
“One night I came home and there were two cops walking on Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said.
The response to Harris’ concerns by Spaulding’s department is not limited to increased foot patrols.
Spaulding told the Times after the July 23 council meeting that the department has made a couple of arrests. His department was previously aware of one of the addresses that the community is concerned about.
The Westminster Police Department does “hotspot reporting.” That means every Monday they parse through the last seven days of phone calls that police officers have responded to. If there are more than three calls in one week, that address goes on the hotspot report.
Police officers also parse through the last 28 days of calls each Monday, if there isn’t a short-term trend, they hope to catch trends over four-week periods.
“One of the addresses [the community members] mentioned has come up on that report before,” Spaulding said. “One of them has not.”
This highlights the importance of residents bringing their concerns to police, said the police chief of 14 years.
“Sometimes we need the community to call us and let us know where their concerns are because we can’t be everywhere all the time and we can’t possibly identify every single problem in the community,” he said.
It appears as though the community has noticed and is relishing in the increased police attention.
“I don’t feel safer because I was never afraid,” Matheson said. “But [there’s] peace of mind knowing that somebody is trying to help resolve this.”
Breznicky said children are out playing again, “like it used to be.”
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“My stepdaughter has been out here more often riding her scooter up and down the sidewalk,” Breznicky said. “I’ve seen a lot more kids out and playing … kids drawing on sidewalks with chalk.”