In an effort to keep crime down and the community involved, Howard County police are inviting Long Reach village residents to a forum tonight to discuss safety and crime concerns.
The gathering is a continuation of meetings held last year with residents of the Heatherstone townhouse community and the Sierra Woods apartment complex. But this year, police want people from other Long Reach communities to attend and get involved.
"People in the neighborhoods see a lot of stuff," said Pfc. Lisa Myers, one of the meeting's organizers who works in the HotSpot community. "But they do not report it and we want them to start reporting these things to us right away, not two weeks after it has happened."
Two years ago Columbia's Long Reach village was named a crime HotSpot, making it eligible for state and federal money -- $122,000 over three years -- to be used to establish crime prevention programs.
Long Reach was one of 35 areas in the state chosen as part of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's initiative to give ** $10.5 million in state and federal money to bring down crime rates.
On a per-capita basis in 1997, Long Reach had twice as much violent crime and four times as many calls to police about drugs as the rest of Howard County, according to police statistics.**
The crime problems in the east Columbia village did not go unnoticed by police, who began a "zero tolerance" program that put officers on the street four nights a week and authorized them to make arrests for even the most minor crimes.
Zero tolerance had the support of the community and, according to residents and police, drove out dozens of drug dealers loitering along Tamar Drive.
The HotSpot programs are responsible for the drop in crime, police and residents say, but now they want to make sure everyone, not just those who live in Heatherstone and Sierra Woods, gets involved.
"There have been dramatic changes here," said John Snyder, vice chairman of the Long Reach Village Board. "There are more police officers on the street and more of an awareness of who the bad guys are."
Myers said she expects residents to talk about suspicious activity at houses -- where there appear to be many people in and out during the day and night -- and loitering and safety concerns that normally come up as the holidays approach.
"A lot of it is quality of life issues," she said.
The meeting, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., will be held at the Bentana Community Center, 8905 Tamar Drive. Information: 410- 313-7455.