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Residents' security concerns growing


Recent assaults and robberies in East Columbia have convinced some Owen Brown residents that it's time to be vigilant -- or to hire someone to be vigilant for them.

One Owen Brown resident is calling for the Owen Brown Village Board to revitalize its Crime Prevention Committee. And two residents of the village's Greenleaf townhouse community want to hire an off-duty police officer to patrol their neighborhood.

Both ideas have been tried before in the East Columbia village but dropped, apparently after residents thought they had reduced crime and were more comfortable, village board members say.

The costly idea of hired security has arisen elsewhere in some of Howard's communities but has not been widespread in Columbia.

A few years ago, the Hawthorn townhouse development in west Columbia's Hickory Ridge village hired guards to keep an eye out for crowds of disorderly youths who gathered at a local convenience store and an all-night sub shop, Sgt. Karen Burnett, supervisor of the county police department's Crime Prevention Section, said. "People started to disappear" after the patrols began, she said.

Other communities across the county also have hired private security guards -- most of them off-duty county officers -- to deter crime and juvenile mischief in recent years, county police said.

"Many townhouse communities have hired private security because they don't want their neighborhoods to go down," Sergeant Burnett said.

Kevin Turpie, president of the Greenleaf Community Association Inc., said the homeowners association is willing to listen to any anti-crime suggestions from Greenleaf residents but prefers to hire an inexpensive patrol officer.

The two anti-crime recommendations come at a time when residents'fear of crime is rising in Columbia, especially in the town's older villages. According to recent statistics released by the county Police Department, serious crimes in the county rose by a third in the first three months of the year, pushed by robberies.

"There have been some unsettling things in the area," said Elliott Kanner, a three-year resident who is calling for the Crime Prevention Committee to resume fighting crime.

On June 4, two employees at Scan Furniture Outlet Store on Gerwig Lane near Owen Brown were shot and wounded in a robbery attempt. No one has been arrested in connection with the double shooting, police said.

Last month, police charged a 26-year-old Columbia man with armed robbery of a food market and video store in Owen Brown. And in April, a 26-year-old woman was beaten by a man who tried to abduct her outside her townhouse in the village. Her screams awakened her husband, who scared away the attacker.

In addition, there have been petty thefts at local stores and some drug dealing, residents said.

Mr. Kanner took his concerns to the May 16 village board meeting. Catherine Hester, newly elected to the village board, said she plans to work with Mr. Kanner, who is the crime committee's only member. They are trying to schedule an informational meeting to attract more people.

The committee would educate residents and give them common sense approaches, such as cutting the grass and picking up the daily newspaper, to prevent crimes.

"It makes people more aware and careful," Mrs. Hester said. "I zTC think it's kind of human nature to let your guard down, and that's when you get into trouble."

Greenleaf residents Bill and Gillian Harding also were at the village board meeting to talk about crime. They suggested that residents chip in a nominal amount to hire an off-duty police officer. But the board told them that such ideas have to go through their homeowners association.

Mr. Turpie, the president of the Greenleaf association, said the homeowners board needs to determine the feasibility of the plan for the community, which has some Section 8 residents. Forty-five percent of Greenleaf's 192 units are rental units.

He said if someone is hired at $5 an hour for several hours on four nights a week, it would cost about $2,000 and still leave the neighborhood without patrols much of the time.

Wanda Hurt, the village board's chairwoman, said the Swanpoint community by Lake Elkhorn hired an off-duty police officer to patrol that neighborhood on the weekends about three years ago. "It proved to be quite effective," she said, "because we stopped having as [many] auto break-ins. But it got to be expensive." The patrols were discontinued.

Mrs. Hester said the criminals are getting brazen. For example, she said, two of her neighbors were burglarized in the afternoon. In one of those burglaries, when a teen-age daughter "put the key in the door, [she] heard someone coughing" Mrs. Hester said. The girl went to a neighbor's home and called police.

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