Does historic Ellicott City have a problem with rowdy loiterers who drink alcohol openly and intimidate visitors to the restaurants, antique shops and gift boutiques on Main Street?
The answer depends on whom you ask. If there is such a problem, say some merchants and regular visitors, it's a minor one, especially compared to the panhandling on regular display in downtown Baltimore.
Still other merchants, led by the Ellicott City Business Association, complain that the situation is bad enough to have a noticeable negative impact on local commerce. Visitors made uneasy by loiterers near the new Oella parking lot, or by panhandlers on Main Street, might decide to take their business elsewhere should the problem persist, the association argues.
We tend to agree with this view. Ellicott City's Main Street is an important county attraction from many viewpoints -- those of shoppers, merchants and the county government. It's one of Maryland's key tourism points, let alone Howard County's. To the extent that the problem with loiterers makes the historic area less appealing, action must be taken to stem its causes.
Police are familiar with a small band of characters that has been known to hang out near the Oella lot and the B&O; Railroad Station and Museum, among other places, and engage in various kinds of offensive behavior. These hardly qualify as the worst crimes in the world (though it should be noted that drinking alcohol in public violates a Maryland law). Yet, as a Howard County police spokesman said, "It's quite annoying" to people visiting the area.
At the request of Ellicott City merchants, police from both Howard and Baltimore counties recently agreed both to increase and to coordinate their patrols of the location in question, which straddles the two jurisdiction's boundaries. Shortly after beefed-up police patrols were started in the middle of last month, three people were arrested on charges of public drunkenness.
L Police action might be just a part of the solution, however.
Rowdiness is one thing; but if a particular group of loiterers is always found to be creating trouble, this could be a matter for social service officials. Getting at the root of the behavior that has caused the anxiety on Main Street might prove to be the best way to put everyone at ease and produce a return to business as usual.