Early last month, a downtown Westminster resident expressed her concern at a Common Council meeting over the spike in criminal activity in her neighborhood. A few weeks later, two separate shootings and an armed robbery occurred in the heart of Westminster. More recently, a car was stolen and later recovered in southwest Baltimore. Naturally, the citizens of Westminster are asking what is happening in their city and what can be done to stop it?
The first shooting happened the night of Wednesday, July 25, on East Green Street. It was reported that several shots were fired at an individual who was running towards Church Street. The second shooting occurred on Friday, July 27, once again on East Green Street. In addition to bullets being fired, a resident was held at gunpoint. Only a couple of days passed before the Westminster Carroll Mart gas station (the former Sheetz) was robbed at gunpoint the morning of Aug. 2. Thankfully, the cashier cooperated, and nobody was hurt.
Westminster citizens are speaking out about the uptick in crime. Christopher Bartosik, an eight-year resident of downtown Westminster, was a witness to the second shooting. Bartosik saw one shooter run through his yard, and another suspect hide in his bush. Bartosik, when asked about the incidents he remarked, “One incident … two incidents … but three incidents? There should have been an increased police presence after the first two incidents. It makes you wonder what is going on.” Long-time residents of Westminster are also worried. Although he was very pleased with local law enforcement’s response, lifelong resident and former mayor of Westminster, Kevin Dayhoff said, “The recent crime in Westminster caught us by surprise. It’s been upsetting. Without public safety, you have no community.”
In response, the Westminster Police Department announced that they were partnering with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and the Maryland State Police to put an end to this recent crime wave. Sheriff Jim DeWees said, “Law enforcement in Carroll County has an extremely good relationship with one another. The relationship amongst the chiefs, state police, and myself is exceptional.”
The sheriff said that the police have increased their presence in Westminster over the last few weeks. Some officers are in uniform and others are operating covertly. Multiple arrests have been made and the criminal activity has already been reduced. Sheriff DeWees said with certainty that the recent criminal activity is drug related and that many of those who have been arrested are from out of town, specifically Baltimore. “We are aggressively targeting specific people who are directly involved in selling drugs,” he added.
Besides the work being done by our law enforcement agencies, what else can be done by local city officials to address this rising problem? In 2017, I praised the Westminster Common Council for discussing the idea of assembling a neighborhood task force made up of citizens and council members. This idea was ultimately executed, and the Public Safety Advisory Council was formed. The Advisory Council’s first act was launching an online survey. The Advisory Council hoped to use the survey to get an idea of how local residents, business owners, and visitors feel about safety in Westminster. The survey was closed after May 31, but the results have not been made public. One hopes that Advisory Council promptly provides us with not only a summary of the results, but also provides us with the actual comments they received in response to the survey.
It was great to see Westminster’s Chief of Police, Jeff Spaulding, organize a community meeting, which he held the evening of Aug. 9. It was made clear that the police needs the public to help them by reporting criminal activity and providing possible leads. There is no doubt that the quickest way for a message to get out to the masses is to use the internet and social media platforms. The Mayor and Common Council should take advantage of these communication channels and keep residents up to speed on all matters regarding the City – good or bad. Other Carroll municipalities often post press releases from the local police regarding criminal activity. Anything from major crimes down to nighttime automobile break-ins. Matters regarding shootings and armed robberies should absolutely be addressed on social media so members of the community can be fully aware of what is happening. For many citizens, Facebook public group pages such as the Westminster Online Community page keeps citizens informed on city happenings. The city government should consider posting crime-related news on that highly visited Facebook page. For folks who do not use social media, it would be nice for this information to be available on the city’s website as well. A quick browse reveals that the last police press release uploaded to Westminster’s website is from November 2013.
Westminster has much to offer its residents and visitors. The city is home to several beautiful parks, thrilling downtown events, and wonderful bars and restaurants. We cannot allow this to be ruined by those who lack basic human decency and who have no respect for the law. If the public stays informed, and our county’s various law enforcement agencies work together, then the increased criminal activity in Westminster can be kept at bay.