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Sharp drop is reported in county light rail crime


Crime on the light rail line in northern Anne Arundel County has dropped off sharply since county police and the Mass Transit Administration joined forces to patrol the line, authorities said yesterday.

Officers arrested only eight people in July, compared with 139 in May and June, said Edgar F. Koch, the deputy county police chief. Only two of the arrests in July were for shoplifting, he said. The rest were for disorderly conduct or failure to pay train fares.

"It has died off," Deputy Chief Koch said. "It's definitely the presence of the police on the platforms, and the first initiative we started and the MTA police riding the trains."

Residents in Linthicum and merchants at Cromwell Field Shopping Center in Glen Burnie, the two neighborhoods most affected, had complained that the light rail system, which opened a year ago in Anne Arundel county, has brought increased crime.

Members of the Linthicum Shipley Improvement Association were so angry over what they saw as increased crime in their neighborhood that they voted May 11 to ask the MTA to shut down the Linthicum Heights station.

About the same time, county police at the Northern District station began their Light Rail Enforcement initiative, beefing up patrols at the stations in the county. On June 30, state officials announced programs aimed at fighting crime and the perception of it along the 2-year-old, 22-mile light rail line that runs through Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City.

Some who live and work in North Anne Arundel County said it seemed like the crime-fighting efforts were making a difference, but others seemed skeptical.

"You can crow over the short-term gains," said Dick Vehlow, acting president of the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association. "But you have to look at the long term. Since the first of July you've had an officer on every platform and the people know that. You may have numbers that are down now, but how long is the presence going to be there?"

Sharon Sterehlen, store manager at Matthews Hallmark at Cromwell Fields, said the crime problem "seems like it's getting better," but that it is hard to attribute the improvement solely to increased police patrols. "It could be the weather," she said.

"Certainly it sounds like their enforcement effort is bearing fruit and that's what counts," said Linthicum resident Bob Barrows.

Mr. Barrows, who is on the board of directors of the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association, was one of about 40 community leaders, transit officials and politicians at a neighborhood light rail committee meeting Monday night.

State Sen. Michael J. Wagner, a Ferndale Democrat and long-time light rail supporter, formed the committee after he was sharply criticized at the May 11 improvement association meeting.

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