One woman told the story of burglars breaking into her house, stealing her car keys and fleeing with her vehicle.
Another spoke of a suspicious individual walking back and forth past her house with a GoPro camera.
The two police officers heard of break-ins, drug dealers and speeding; a local church unknowingly harboring a drug market.
Anthony Scott saw his neighbors posting on social media, complaining about a neighborhood under siege. So he emailed the Westminster Police Department, phoned an officer and organized a meeting — finally he and other residents of The Greens community could voice frustrations, ask questions and learn how to improve their safety.
“We’d like to have all of our kids grow up without drugs and violence and all the stuff that goes on in this area,” Scott told the Times. “My wife and I grew up in everyday-USA type of neighborhoods … I have an 8-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, and we don’t feel comfortable sending them off to go play like her and I did growing up.”
Sgt. Adam Laser and Lt. Tom Kowalczyk, both from the Westminster Police Department, attended the Thursday meeting at the Westminster Community Center. From a plastic fold-up table they fielded questions from concerned community members in the white cinderblock room.
The police veterans offered advice: Keep your doors and windows locked, keep your bushes and your trees trimmed, your exterior lights operational. The officers told residents make record of bicycle serial numbers, to alert police to suspicious activities, however trivial.
“My house was entered, they stole the keys out of my home and they actually stole my car,” Lisa Weaver, of Uniontown Road, told her neighbors. “The reason they had entry is because we failed to lock our front door … it’s concerning when you can’t live with that old-school mentality.”
Laser repeated harsh realities.
“I wish we lived in a world where you could walk down the street,” Laser told the crowd, “and be able to go in the front door of your own home without having to dig through your keys … That is not the world we live in anymore.”
Compared to the last six months of 2017, violent crime — like assault and robbery — hasn’t increased in this area over the first six months of 2018, Laser said. “There has been an increase, minor, but an increase within The Greens in property crime” like thefts from automobiles, malicious destruction of property, even some burglaries.
The department has made two arrests related to the auto thefts. And they’ve started digging into drug activity at the church; the narcotics unit is aware but can’t offer more information because it’s an open investigation, the officers explained. Investigations are like puzzles, completing them is like putting together puzzle pieces, said Kowalczyk, acknowledging he’d worked in narcotics.
“It takes time to work these cases,” Laser emphasized, “it’s not a quick fix. We have to have A-B-C-D-E in line before we can even go to the courts and say ‘Hey, we [have the parts], can we move on this.’ ”
A vocal community expedites the process. Police need eyes and ears on the ground. Sharing detailed information is key.
“If you’re going to call in and give us information, one, we appreciate that,” Kowalczyk said. “We don’t have a crystal ball to be able to see everything going on and be everywhere, so please that’s the only way we’ll know what’s going on. But if you do that, the more information that you can give us as to what you’re seeing,” the better.
The people, if you know them, where they may be coming from, what house you suspect they’re at, Kowalczyk continued. If unknown vehicles are frequenting the area, give police descriptions, not just “a blue Ford,” try for tag numbers and model types, he said.
“Are we allowed to take pictures?” The Greens resident Heather Basmajian asked the cops.
It depends: No invading expectation of privacy, but if it’s outside on public grounds, it’s fair game, the officers explained.
Basic information is important, too, but it limits what officers can legally do, Kowalczyk said.
Regardless, it starts with a call.
Brenda Hetterich, of Windsor Drive, observed what she described as a suspicious person passing her house on foot repeatedly with a GoPro. She said her husband confronted the camera-wielding man. The man, she said, told them he wasn’t recording and fled. Hetterich felt uneasy, she told the audience and officers.
“Did you guys call in on that?” Laser asked.
“We did not,” Hetterich said.
“That’s the kind of stuff we need to know about,” Laser pleaded.
Anybody with suspicions or information can call the department’s main line at 410-848-4646. People with tips should call 410-857-8477. Those who would like to remain anonymous should send text messages to the number 847411 with the keyword “TIPWPD” in the message.