Not so long ago, fear reigned in and around Edgewater Village -- and kept Brenda Covert off the streets of her own neighborhood at night.
Drug dealers peddled marijuana and cocaine openly on the streets of Meadowood and the Edgewater Village Apartment complex. A pipe bomb exploded along Horseshoe Lane, damaging the car of a suspected drug kingpin. Armed robbers struck Edgewood convenience stores, and a man, since convicted in a murder-for-hire plot, fired five shots at two men just before Christmas in 1991.
"It just wasn't safe to go outside at night or come to the shopping centers," said Mrs. Covert, who lives near the woods off Brookside Drive in Sunrise East. Now, Mrs. Covert no longer fears the streets at night. In her words: "You can feel safe again in the neighborhood."
That message could be heard again and again Thursday at the storefront Community Policing Center in the Edgewater Village Shopping Center.
There, about 30 representatives from citizens' and merchants' groups and the County Council met with law enforcement officials to talk about the first six months of an aggressive anti-crime program.
Increased sheriff's and state police patrols have done much to eliminate fear in the community, residents and merchants say.
"Our car was constantly being vandalized, and we wouldn't dream of going for a walk in the evening," said Mrs. Covert, a
nine-year resident of the area who runs a day care business from her home.
Two weeks ago, Mrs. Covert and her children -- David, 8, and Carolann, 6 -- spotted a poster in the shopping center welcoming children each Wednesday evening to the Community Policing Center for "Feelings" and "Family," educational programs.
"Mrs. Covert stopped in and then came back last week with several more children from the neighborhood," said Lisa Lindley, of the county's Drug/Alcohol Impact program.
Thursday, Mrs. Covert had Steven Case, 5, and Rachel Case, 2, in tow. She cares for them while their parents work and brought them along to meet a police officer.
Deputy First Class DeWayne Curry, spokesman for the sheriff's office, gladly obliged and drew more of their attention than did his boss, Sheriff Robert E. Comes, who was not wearing a uniform.
"Steven and Rachel are what this is all about," said County Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B. The community, ZTC working with merchants and law enforcement agencies and relying in part on a $100,000 federal grant for community policing, is driving out the criminal element.
It's all helping make neighborhoods better, said Ms. Parrott.
"Add in so many new Neighborhood Watch programs and the interest of the people from NICE [Neighbors Involved in the Community of Edgewood] and you can see it works," she said.
NICE is an umbrella organization overseeing the work of neighborhood groups and channeling their efforts into common goals.
The shopping center merchants like what they have seen. They say there's still more work to do, but the community is winning its war on crime.
Foremost, they say, is the cooperation they receive from the sheriff's office and the state police.
A part-time clerk at Jeanne's Hallmark store said she has worked in the area for 20 years.
After-school hours used to be a problem when latchkey children would come to the shopping center to hang out, she said.
"The kids have nowhere to go, but now the police patrols prevent them from being much of a problem," she said.
In the past the Hallmark store had two break-ins, an armed robbery, and other incidents of vandalism, but no such incidents have been reported since the Community Policing Center opened.
Robert Griffith and John Bloom have worked for about 15 years in the Edgewater Barber Shop. They have noted fewer problems with children and teen-agers at the shopping center in recent months.
"The real test will come when the weather turns hot in the summer months," said Mr. Bloom.
Charlie Gore, now of Aberdeen, returns regularly to get a haircut. He also bowls in the area on Friday and Saturday evenings.
"I've noticed a lot less problems with teen-agers hanging out at the shopping center and outside the bowling lanes," he said.
"It [police foot patrol] is a return to what it used to be like when I grew up in Baltimore City," said Mr. Griffith. "Every officer knew you by name and knew your parents."
Glenn Weinberg, who manages the shopping center for developer Cordish & Cordish of Baltimore, drew praise Thursday for his role in helping the community and police work more effectively by providing the storefront space free.
And Sheriff Comes and Lt. Col. Thomas Broumel had plenty of statistics to support the perception of success.
Foot patrol deputies have worked more than 1,300 hours of foot patrols, much of it overtime, and made personal contact with 4,000 residents.
That has resulted in 35 arrests, seven recoveries of various drugs, and 69 citations which mainly targeted uninsured and improperly registered vehicles.
In the last six months, nearly 500 of the 1,000 Edgewater area residents have been surveyed about life in the community and ways to foster pride and prevent crime.
In the same span, police have executed 13 search-and-seizure warrants, resulting in 21 arrests, and seized $15,328, one handgun and various quantities of cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
Police and community members removed more than 2 1/2 tons of trash in an October cleanup of Lake Serene in Edgewater.
Deputies Paul Wilkinson, Dale Stonesifer and David Alexander have worked the bulk of the foot patrol hours and can joke about the little children who sometimes follow them around on their beat, affording onlookers a glimpse of a sort of Pied Piper.
It's a pleasant sight on streets people once feared walking at night.