Police apply for 2nd HotSpot; $232,534 requested for anti-crime effort in Harper's Choice


Howard County police said yesterday they want the new HotSpot program in Harper's Choice to be larger than Columbia's other HotSpot program and to include money to help renters buy homes.

Police applied Tuesday to the state for $232,534 in HotSpot funding, and will have to wait until November to find how much is approved. They hope to obtain an additional $118,000 from other sources, including county funds.

The program is a statewide crime prevention initiative. It concentrates resources in an area no more than a mile across. A police officer, probationary officer and other staff members are assigned to the area to lead crime-control measures.

The county's other HotSpot program is in Long Reach village and encompasses 11 streets. Harper's Choice HotSpot would include 42 streets, said Capt. Michael Kessler, commander of the department's southern district. He compiled the HotSpot application.

County police said they decided to focus funding on housing and business revitalization, in part to reduce the number of transient residents. Harper's Choice has 6,277 residents, according to the 1990 census, and 3,200 homes.

They earmarked $20,000 of the $232,534 request for that program, and expect to get an additional $73,000 from other sources, making it the second most expensive item next to policing efforts and office space. Officials expect to help five first-time home buyers.

"People who own a home tend to be more committed" to the community, said Kessler.

Police also want to help cash-strapped business owners make aesthetic improvements, which they believe will help deter criminal activity in the village center.

"We need more [customers] and a better mix of tenants," said Mark McCoy, who owns Parcel Plus in the village center and is a member of the Harper's Choice Merchants Association.

Residents have said they do not feel safe at night near the village center because of poor lighting and the presence of loiterers.

"Groups gather to drink, smoke and possibly do drugs," a 31-year village resident said in a police survey.

Another resident said that he no longer sleeps with the windows open.

The HotSpot program would also include an after-school program. One of its goals is to educate the community about the availability of resources -- including help available for victims of domestic and sexual violence -- and to provide resources for recovering addicts.

A satellite police office would be opened. Police recommended placing a 64- by 24-foot trailer on the village center parking lot.

Three communities applied for the HotSpot program, Harper's Choice, North Laurel and Oakland Mills. County officials decided on Harper's Choice, which had 490 calls for police service in 1998 -- the highest number of the three communities -- and the strongest level of community activism.

Sixteen of those calls reported shootings. About half of the calls were for narcotics violations, loitering, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, according to the county's application. Last September, two shootings occurred within a 24-hour period.

The Harper's Choice application was one of 34 received by the state Tuesday.

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