Turnout to address heroin abuse low County police disappointed more don't show concern for the growing problem


The first in a series of public discussions sponsored by Howard County police on the growing problem of heroin abuse attracted only a few residents to a meeting in Columbia this week.

"It's been the philosophy of police departments in the late '90s to stress community policing," said Lt. Tim Branning, who heads the vice and narcotics unit. "Here we are trying to work together with the community in the early stages. This is absolutely disappointing."

Seven reporters outnumbered a handful of residents at the Monday night session, part of the regular meeting of the the River Hill Village Board. The residents seemed more interested in a later discussion on traffic problems.

Police hope attendance rises at future forums -- including one scheduled tonight in Town Center. "The people of Howard County have grown complacent," Branning said. "They have good, quality life. The reality of the situation is that you can't escape" drugs.

David Berson, a River Hill board member, said he was not surprised by the turnout.

"We tend not to focus on things that aren't immediate problems," he said.

At the River Hill meeting, Sgt. Keith Lessner spoke about the spread and appeal of heroin. "We interviewed two or three teen-agers recently," he said. "They said they used it three, four, five times and they were addicted."

Lessner said part of the appeal is that higher potency heroin available today does not need to be injected.

"Young people see the white powder and don't think it's a big deal," he said.

Branning said that several Columbia villages declined to participate in the forums because of concerns about being labeled a "drug community."

But the Oakland Mills village manager said her community was skipping the discussions because police could more effectively reach parents at schools, and enough other villages were participating.

"It was mentioned that there were enough image problems already," said Erin Peacock. "But that was not the main consideration." She added: "There is a reluctance to give the press anything that might appear negative. But that was not the main thrust."

Town Center is going ahead with its forum tonight despite expected low turnout -- only one person has signed up to attend.

"Perhaps it's the 'head in the sand' attitude," said Kathleen Liparini, Town Center manager. "Frankly, I'm not that familiar with the problem, but that's why I'm going."

In addition to tonight's meeting, which will be at 7: 30 at Oakland in Town Center at 5434 Vantage Point Road, more meetings are scheduled at 7: 30 p.m. Tuesday at Owen Brown Community Center; 7 p.m. June 17 at Kahler Hall in Harper's Choice; and 7 p.m. June 18 at Linden Hall in Dorsey Search.

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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