Crime prevention is the key to increasing community safety, a group of Oakland Mills community leaders said in a meeting last night during which they assessed the state of the village.
Crime -- vandalism, armed robberies, assaults, drug violations and thefts -- topped the discussion as the group sought remedies to reduce what they termed "anti-community behavior."
"We want to see what's right with Oakland Mills as well as see how we can take advantage of our untapped potential," said David Hatch, chairman of the village board.
Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey sought to reassure the group but threw in a -- of reality as well.
"This county is still the safest area in the metropolitan region to live and work in, but you will never be 100 percent free of crime," he told the gathering of about 30 people.
The meeting was called by village board members in response to a seemingly rising crime rate in Oakland Mills and other parts of Columbia.
Among those in attendance were two state delegates, a county councilman, several representatives from county schools, three other police officers and village residents.
Although Oakland Mills residents' requests for police service decreased by 127 calls this year compared to the same period last year, there has been a countywide increase in serious crimes -- including an armed robbery report every three days, Chief Robey said.
He attributed the increase to the availability of drugs and handguns.
Besides crime, the group discussed other quality of life issues such as building community spirit, ridding the village center of loiterers and others who drink alcoholic beverages in public, as well as providing activities for teen-agers.
"What can we do to help people not want to hurt each other?" asked Janet Ruck Pastor, a village board member.
County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, wanted to know what can be done to "engage our youths."
Del. Frank S. Turner suggested more Columbia Association-sponsored events and a statewide curfew for teens.
Suzanne S. Waller of the Columbia Council said the community must first make it known to teen-agers that adults are in charge.
"We must tell them we will not tolerate thousands of dollars in vandalism," she said.
In summing up, Mr. Hatch, the village board chairman, said, "It was clear from the tone of the meeting, there's a lot more to be done.
"This was a very good start in analyzing our problems."
He said he hoped to schedule another meeting in early fall.