Relatively few crimes are committed in western Howard County, but residents packed Glenwood Middle School's cafeteria last night to hear police detail the problems that do exist there.
Quieter than the heavily populated eastern part of the county, Howard's rural end still has traffic fatalities, drug use, theft and other problems, Capt. Jay Zumbrun told a crowd of more than 50 people.
"I really believe that every one of you needs to know what's going on," said Zumbrun, commander of the Northern District Patrol. "Criminals tend to be opportunistic. They hit the easiest target."
Officers with the district's two western Howard beats - everything past Marriottsville Road - fielded 2,169 calls for service Jan. 1 through May 16, he said. Twenty percent were false alarms, commercial and residential.
Police also dealt with 207 automobile accidents, 101 destruction-of-property incidents (half of them to mailboxes), 89 animal complaints and four weapons violations.
Lisbon resident Paul D'Angelo attended the meeting because his shed was burglarized overnight last week and about $1,300 in yard equipment was stolen. He said he wanted an update on what else is happening in his community. "In the 14 years we've been here, we've never locked the shed," he said.
Zumbrun told residents to think about locking everything, even though they might feel comfortable and safe. Police recorded 44 burglaries in the area between January and mid-May, he said, most to homes and sheds.
Sgt. Mark Joyce warned parents about drugs - especially Ecstasy, a hallucinogenic party drug popular with some county teens.
"Kids now have like eight drugs of choice," he cautioned. "They know someone who knows someone who can get it."
Residents have in the past complained to County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican who represents the area, that police do not always respond quickly to their calls. Just two officers patrol west of Marriottsville Road - geographically more than half of the county - because small towns such as Glenelg and Daisy have fewer people and crimes than do Columbia and Ellicott City.
"It's kind of a Catch-22," said Terry Chaconas, president of Glenelg High School's Parent Teacher Student Association, noting that the area is normally quiet. "You don't need them, but if you do need 'em, boy. ... "
Zumbrun told residents last night that the average officer takes 4 percent of the county's calls for service, while the western Howard officers take less than 3 percent.
"Of course, we would like to have more police," he said, but added that the area's average of one call every 80 minutes is not heavy. "We have a little more coverage out here on paper than other areas of the county."
Twenty-six Howard County officers who live in western Howard take patrol cars home with them so they can respond to big problems after hours, Zumbrun added.
Debbie DiBenedetto, who is on the PTA safety committees at Lisbon Elementary and Glenwood Middle schools, organized the meeting so residents could meet with police officers.
"We just want to take a proactive stance," she said. "We don't have that much crime out in western Howard County - that's not to say that it can't start, and that we don't have some."
Johanna Baldwin, who lives in Glenwood and said that she is sometimes bothered by hucksters traveling on Route 97, thought the meeting was informative.
"I'm glad I came," she said.
Officers often meet with residents, said police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.
"It's part of the community policing philosophy that the department has," she said.