High-tech crime fighting came to Edgewood yesterday on the wheels of the Harford County Sheriff's Mobile Command Center, a 35-foot recreational vehicle outfitted with the latest communication equipment.
The vehicle, stationed at the Edgewood Recreation and Community Center, is being used to launch a 10-day intensive policing effort in the area's most troubled neighborhoods. The Safe Zone Initiative, modeled after a successful Baltimore City program, creates a satellite precinct, available to the public 24-7.
"It's a big piece of equipment that I definitely think will deter folks from some of the activities that go on back here," said Theresa Lewis, who operates a medical center on U.S. 40.
Several squads, assigned to anti-gang and drug enforcement, will work out of the command center on initiatives designed to reverse the effects of crime on this work force community.
"Let those who wish us harm see how far we are willing to go," said Sheriff L. Jesse Bane, who, since taking office in 2006, has increased the numbers of deputies in the community, instituted foot and bike patrols and is frequently on site with other commanders.
"The idea is to put a police presence in this community to make a difference and return this community to what it can be," Bane said to a crowd of about 100 gathered for the kickoff. "We want to continue to reduce crime, improve the quality of life here and encourage interaction between the sheriff and the community."
Violent crime in Edgewood has decreased, with homicides down from nine in 2006 to none this year. Police have tripled the search and seizure warrants in the past year, and have confiscated more than $100,000 worth of cocaine. Deputies are also disrupting gang activity with nearly 40 recent incarcerations tied to gangs, authorities said.
"If anybody thinks those numbers are an accident, they are kidding themselves," said Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, who represents the district.
Mildred Samy, whose 25-year-old son was murdered last year a few hundred yards from the gathering, said she senses an improvement in the neighborhood, maybe because, as the sign she carried said, "911 is watching you."
County officials, community leaders and faith-based groups are working together to make Edgewood safer. Officials dedicated a $3 million gym at the community center and are finishing an adjoining athletic field.
The command center will be at the core of a Community Activities Day next Saturday, an event billed as a one-stop opportunity to find out the positives Edgewood has to offer, said County Executive David R. Craig.
The nearly 800 middle school-age boys that Pastor Alfred Reeves coaches were not in attendance but are pivotal to the success of policing initiatives, he said.
"This is all about building relationships with police so that these boys can look at the sheriff in a different light and talk about issues and their concerns," Reeves said. "Prevention is the best medicine. When outreach doesn't look like police work, it turns the mind-set."
Harford State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly praised the community for its resilience.
"Edgewood never gave up," he said. "People said this is our community and they worked with us to resolve issues."
Jansen Robinson, chairman of the Edgewood Community Council, urged residents to become more involved.
"These men are working for us in our community," he said. "You all see them doing. What are we going to do?"