Editorial: Collective effort needed to clean up Pennsylvania Ave. crime

Anyone who has spent any significant time in the City of Westminster knows that Pennsylvania Avenue and some surrounding areas aren’t the most desirable place to be in Carroll County.

Earlier this week, at the Mayor and Common Council meeting, a resident of Pennsylvania Avenue came to speak about increasing criminal activity, particularly related to drugs, in the area.


“The quality of life has gone down the drain on Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Darcel Harris. “I live across the street from the most inconsiderate [people],” whom she suspects of using and selling drugs. Because of that, she told the council, parents aren’t comfortable letting children go play outside.

A few of the council members acknowledged that they’ve observed similar things happening in that part of town, and thanked Harris for bringing it to their attention. But any keen observer will tell you this isn’t a new problem here. The question is how to fix it?

Several of the council members who ran in the last municipal election made cleaning up the city from crime a priority. While no amount of legislation can eliminate crime completely, it seems it might be time to take more aggressive action.

That doesn’t necessarily mean arresting away the problem, and the most effective methods often require an active and engaged community to step in as a partner with government and law enforcement.

We would call on the city to assist in the formation of a neighborhood watch group, comprised of residents from those troubled areas who want to make a difference, city staff and officers from the Westminster Police Department. That would include a greater police presence, whether in the form of more frequent foot or vehicle patrols, but also an organized effort within the community to keep a closer eye on things and report suspicious behavior to law enforcement. Involving neighboring McDaniel College, which has purchased and fixed up a number of properties along Pennsylvania Avenue, could be part of that conversation.

“At the end of the day, people who are bad actors don’t like a cohesive, unified neighborhood, because they look out for each other, they pay attention to what’s going on, they call the police,” Councilman Tony Chiavacci said at Monday’s meeting. Chiavacci is chairman of the city’s Public Safety Commission.

Many of the properties in that area are also rental properties, sometimes owned by landlords who don’t live in Carroll and don’t have the same community investment as longtime residents. As Mayor Joe Dominick suggested, the city should also look into what kind of repercussions could be put in place for rental license holders who routinely rent to tenants who create a nuisance.

If both residents and city officials are serious about driving crime away from the Pennsylvania Avenue area, and drawing businesses and residents there who are more community-oriented, those two groups need to work together and make a serious effort to improve the neighborhood. Residents cannot rely solely on government to clean up the problem, nor can local government expect the residents to police each other.