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Quick pace of development is causing growing pains in N. Baltimore County

THE BALTIMORE SUN

As development transforms northern Baltimore County, police have more to worry about than cows and deer wandering onto busy roads. They must contend with traffic congestion, fluctuating burglary and robbery rates and violence in the workplace.

For police in the Cockeysville precinct - the county's largest, covering 230 square miles from just north of the Beltway to the Pennsylvania line - that means quickly creating strategies to address problems they had not seen two years ago.

Every month, new businesses and housing developments take over what used to be farmland.

County planners say the area is one of the fastest-developing parts of the county. In the past year, the county received about 30 plans for residential developments and seven for business developments in the area, said Sherry L. Hankins, records management assistant in the Office of Planning.

Some residents say they are seeing a change in the quality of life in this traditionally quiet part of the county. Police said the population growth creates the potential for problems with loitering, vandalism and drug possession.

But "when I go to community meetings, traffic is the big issue that comes up," said Capt. Evan M. Cohen, commander of the Cockeysville precinct.

Some rural roads have become congested; on Belfast Road, two traffic fatalities occurred in one week this summer. In response, officers patrolling the northernmost areas of the precinct will use radar guns to track speeding, a tactic that might be tried elsewhere in the county.

Robberies in the precinct were up 20.3 percent in 1999 compared to 1998 - and down 34.7 percent during the first eight months of this year. The precinct has had 32 robberies this year; Baltimore County as a whole has had 668.

To curtail robberies, police increased patrols at banks and met with business owners.

Police have also targeted the apartment complexes around Cranbrook Road as their "strategic objective area," putting additional resources there. "It's not an established community," Cohen said. "Not everyone knows who their neighbors are and who frequents the community."

Many of the businesses coming to the precinct, particularly to Hunt Valley, have large office buildings and employ hundreds of people. Their arrival has caused concern about a different kind of crime: workplace violence, said Lt. Mel Blizzard.

Police found they were receiving a number of calls about company employees threatening one another, or receiving threats at work from a family member or acquaintance. Last year, Blizzard created a unit in the precinct to deal with workplace violence; the unit now operates countywide out of the police department's Towson headquarters.

Cohen said that as the population continues to grow, the challenge is to maintain high standards of what constitutes a safe community.

"I don't think [crime] is necessarily going to go up," he said, "if we are proactive about crime prevention."

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