Severna Park would like to think it's safe from crime. But a wave of break-ins and burglaries of homes and businesses this summer indicates otherwise, say residents and county police.
Adding to the summer's tension have been an armed robbery Tuesday at the Shangri-La Restaurant and yesterday's killing of a local resident at the Dunkin Donuts on McKinsey Road.
Says George Moran, chairman of the board of the Greater Severna Park Chamber of Commerce, "Crime is definitely on an increase. It's a reality. We're noticing both some very professional crimes and juvenile crimes, across the board. For many weeks, the break-ins seemed to be juvenile-related because of what they stole. Now we're seeing some very sophisticated burglars with really good equipment who have gotten by motion detectors."
The burglaries have ranged from stores in the Park Plaza shopping center to office buildings along Veterans Highway, from bushels of crabs to $5,000 in appliances.
County police Sgt. Daniel Yerkey said one big problem has been residential burglaries in the Round Bay area.
"We've had frequent break-ins, almost weekly, for two months," he said. "We're concentrating our efforts on catching the person. We are urging citizen awareness -- keep your eyes and ears open. We're also doing bike patrols."
Homeowners in Round Bay say they are especially fearful since one resident awoke to hear a prowler in her hallway. The intruder, who had broken the rear glass door, escaped when he realized the woman and her husband were awake.
Says Eastern District crime analyst Donna Vass: "We had a lot of breaking and enterings around Benfield Boulevard this summer. Burglaries tend to increase dramatically over the summer, because a lot of the people who commit residential burglaries are young kids, out of school. When school lets out in the summer, you can see a difference in the police reports the next day."
Ms. Vass said she's observed a "big increase" in shed and garage breaking and enterings in Severna Park this summer, with bicycles, gas grills and lawn furniture a big target.
But Mr. Moran, who is in the insurance business, said the problems extend beyond the usual petty thefts.
"In my own building, we've had people who tried to lock themselves in the building at night," he said. "A few years ago, the chamber had four or five reports of break-ins a year. We've recently had almost weekly problems."
Linda Zahn, executive director of the chamber, said the organization has taken steps to protect the community, from asking the police for more patrols to reminding members of the Crime Watch program.
The program, started in July 1991, provides an information network. When a crime is reported, every participating chamber member receives a fax or phone call alerting them.
"If someone is broken into at noon, I'll know at 12:30," Ms. Zahn said. The chamber members also use the system to report suspicious activity in the business community, such as loiterers.
Mr. Moran, who directs the Crime Watch program, said the chamber asked county police for increased patrols.
"Personally, I think the police department has done a good job in responding," he said. "They've stepped up patrols and added some bike patrols."
Mr. Moran said the Chamber and the Greater Severna Park Council also may donate money to buy the police more bikes for the patrols.
The chamber also is discussing with police the possibility of establishing citizen patrols, Mr. Moran said.
As for store owners, they say there isn't much they can do to protect themselves other than adding more security systems.
Art Gauthier, the owner of Arthur's Clothing in Park Plaza, was the victim of a break-in earlier this month in which racks of men's suits were taken.
"There's not much you can do when it's a smash and grab," he said. "You're not going to catch them. They hit me at 12:30 a.m. The Gingerbread Man restaurant nearby was still open. I think the thieves are getting more blatant, more brazen. They're probably in and out in two minutes."
Mr. Gauthier said he's added video cameras and stepped up in-store security since the break-in.