Residents in about 25 neighborhoods countywide gathered last night at block parties and picnics to mark the 10th Howard County National Night Out Against Crime.
Neighbors munched on hot dogs, coleslaw and watermelon, met new residents and got reacquainted with old ones.
At parties in North Laurel and Long Reach village in Columbia, residents said the crimes committed in their neighborhoods were minor and that they hope a close-knit community will keep it that way.
"This is an excuse to get together," said Will Geckle, a seven-year resident of the Kendall Ridge neighborhood in Long Reach. "By getting to know the neighbors, you have an indirect neighborhood watch."
Despite the festive atmosphere at the parties, this National Night Out came at a time when county residents and police have been working to curtail rising rates of street robberies, home break-ins and juvenile crime.
Police received 116 robbery reports during the first six months of this year, compared with 81 during the same period in 1995.
Reports of crimes involving juveniles totaled 217 during the first three months of the year, compared with 119 during the same period last year.
Debbie Carroll, police liaison for Kendall Ridge, said some residents are concerned about a recent increase in thefts from cars in the neighborhood. She hopes yesterday's block party will inspire them to become more active in crime-fighting.
"Before the break-ins, we hadn't been touched by crime, so there was a lot of apathy," she said. "Hopefully, we can revitalize the neighborhood watch."
Police started a robbery suppression program July 18 that assigned 15 plainclothes and uniformed officers to the Columbia villages of Long Reach, Town Center and Oakland Mills for 10 weeks to fight street robberies.
The program combines the efforts of detectives and narcotics officers, as well as the regular patrol officers, to find possible connections between the robberies and other types of crime.
To combat juvenile crime, the Police Department wants to open a teen center in a Department of Recreation and Parks building in Cedar Lane Park. The program would be aimed at youths between ages 14 and 19 who do not participate in extracurricular activities after school.
The center would offer academic, athletic and arts programs, giving youths alternatives to committing crimes.
National Night Out should reinvigorate community discussion of crime prevention measures, said Pfc. Stephen Black of the Police Department's community services section.
"It's an effort to make them more aware of what's going on in their communities," he said.
North Laurel resident Ed Hoffman said he occasionally hears about break-ins in his neighborhood.
"It comes and goes in cycles," he said. "We have a very supportive block, so we see very little crime in North Laurel."
Michael Thewes, who has held National Night Out parties at his North Laurel home for the past six years, said the occasion helps residents meet new neighbors and gets them involved in neighborhood activities throughout the year.
"It's a chance to get together and show solidarity in the neighborhood," Thewes said.
Sgt. Morris Carroll, supervisor of the community services section, said auto thefts along U.S. 1 comprise most of the crime in North Laurel.
"This community has always been tight-knit," he said "That's why we don't have other kinds of problems."
Pub Date: 8/07/96