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Sheriff discusses drugs, traffic issues at town hall

Sheriff discusses drugs, traffic issues at town hall
(MATT BUTTON/ AEGIS STAFF)

The biggest crime problems in Harford County are all related to drugs. That's the message Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane delivered Saturday morning at a town hall meeting for the Abingdon community.

The biggest crime problems in Harford County are all related to drugs.

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That's the message Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane delivered Saturday morning at a town hall meeting for the Abingdon community. The meeting was held, despite the light snow falling, in a packed meeting room at the Abingdon branch of the Harford County Public Library.

Although the biggest problem is drugs, Bane added that the most common source of drugs in the county comes from an unexpected place: the medicine cabinet. In 2011, the Harford County Drug Task Force made 162 drug-related arrests, compared to 141 in 2010.

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There is also a new "class of violator" in Harford County, according to Bane. In the last wiretap operation, they charged people throughout the county, who are in the middle and upper classes, with drug related violations.

Despite the new drug "violators," crime in the county overall is down, Bane said. The Harford County Sheriff's Office started collecting part-one crime data in 1975, he said, when the population in the county was around 129,000. The crime rate then per 100,000 population was 4,336.

With a population of about 246,000, Harford's crime rate per 100,000 population is 2,173.8, Bane said. Harford County is "the safest" it's ever been, he declared.

Bane also broke down the individual crime reductions from 2010 to 2011, including a 43 percent reduction in rapes, 23 percent reduction in robberies, 1 percent reduction in assaults, 18 percent reduction in burglaries, 15 percent reduction in thefts and 9 percent reduction in motor vehicle thefts.

The national rate of police officers to 1,000 populations is 2.7, Bane also said, but Harford County operates on a 0.8 rate. Even with that, he praised the dedication of the officers and their ability to deal with a "very stressful" job.

"When you run away from danger, they run to it," he said.

Detention center

The Harford County Detention Center has had the same number of correctional officers since 1998, Bane said, even though the number of inmates has increased from 274 to about 450.

The detention center itself has changed, he added, becoming more than a jail as it also serves as a hospital, asylum and drug treatment center.

Although Harford County is the fifth safest county in the state, it also has the fifth highest number of traffic fatalities. The growth in the county is to blame for these statistics, Bane said, as the infrastructure is not able to support all the traffic and BRAC-related changes.

In response to the traffic problem, a Harford County Traffic Task Force has been created so local law enforcement can target areas with traffic issues on a weekly basis, Bane said.

The sheriff's office is also applying for a grant that will allow it to focus on violent offenders, Bane said, and be able to arrest them and put them in jail the first time they "screw up."

Richardson case

Most important, however, is focusing on children, who Bane said are Harford County's "greatest asset." He also briefly spoke about Robert C. Richardson III, a 16-year-old Bel Air boy who is charged with killing his father in early January.

Bane mentioned the community that is supporting Richardson because he was allegedly abused as a child and said that although he could not comment on the investigation, the community response is "phenomenal."

Several community members spoke during the meeting, from questions about the different programs to individual concerns in their neighborhoods. One man gave information to the various sheriff's office representatives about the traffic problems at Belair and Reckord roads, while one woman commended on the sheriff's office anti-gang efforts.

She encouraged the office to educate residents about identifying gangs to help reduce the problem. Capt. John Bowman also asked that people report any graffiti.

Gang updates

In Harford County, Bowman said earlier in the meeting, there are 335 known gang members or associates. The difference, Bane said, is that associates are not gang members, but hang out with members.

The sheriff's office is doing its best to drive out gangs, but acknowledges it's a "difficult thing to tackle," Bane said. They will arrest gang members "until the cows come home," he said, but that does not stop them from coming into the county.

Another community member asked if the proposed livability code would potentially benefit the sheriff's office, to which Bane said it would help them tackle problems in communities with absentee landlords. County Councilman Dion Guthrie, who introduced the legislation, also spoke about the code and how it can improve quality of life standards throughout the county.

The sheriff's office will hold these town hall type meetings every four months in different sectors throughout the county, Bane said.

Abingdon Community Council Chairperson Cynthia Hergenhahn also pointed out that a sheriff's representative attends each meeting to discuss crime in the Abingdon area.

The community council's meetings are the fourth Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Abingdon library.

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