Crime a Trend or Random Uptick?

032814_crimeThe Northern Park Heights community has seen peaks and valleys of criminal activity over the years, but recent incidents have some concerned they’re seeing a new normal.

A March 4 home invasion in which a man and his daughter were tied up and had their home robbed was one of several incidents that sent shockwaves through the community. An attempted carjacking, burglaries and auto thefts likewise have some on edge.

“I don’t remember for quite some time a crime wave of this magnitude, nor the brazenness of it,” said Avrahom Sauer, president of the Cross Country Improvement Association. “It reminds me of the times almost back in 1979, 1980. There was terrible crime [then], and you couldn’t walk on Park Heights Avenue at nighttime.”

Others in the area are concerned but not feeling as alarmed. Sandy Johnson, president of the Fallstaff Improvement Association who has lived in the area since 1978, said crime often comes in waves; arrests are then made, and the amount of incidents slows down.

“I think we probably are a lot better off than a lot of parts of Baltimore City,” she said. “I like this area because there’s less crime than in other parts of Baltimore City.”

Burglaries and robberies in the Northwest District, and citywide, have decreased compared with last year, according to statistics provided by Baltimore City police. A year-to-date comparison to 2013 shows that robberies are down 43 percent and burglaries down 3 percent in the Northwest District. Citywide, robberies are down 15 percent and burglaries are down 8 percent.

Betsy Gardner, the neighborhood liaison for the Jewish community in the 5th, 6th and 7th Baltimore districts for City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said the Northern Park Heights area is lucky because it has two dedicated police officers – Ken Dickstein, the police department’s citywide liaison to the Jewish community, and Sam Bennett, liaison to Northwest Citizens Patrol.

“We have confidence in our Northwest District,” said Gardner.

Baltimore County police have changed things around in response to recent incidents.

“We are aware of the concern in the community about the recent home invasions, and the operations of Precinct 4 personnel have been adjusted in response,” said Capt. John McGann, commander of the Pikesville Precinct. “Detectives are actively investigating these cases to identify those persons responsible and bring them to justice.”

Area resident Frank Storch said he hasn’t seen a wave of incidents like the recent crimes since 1981, when he helped form the Northwest Citizens Patrol. During that time, there were muggings, car thefts, bicycle thefts and other small incidents happening on a regular basis, he said. His family helped pay for CB radios for the group.

“It was important that the community would know that there is a group that’s going to be proactive and try to make sure that we stop the amount of incidents that were happening,” he said, “and work with the police department on trying to make the entire neighborhood safer.”

Storch said the area experienced “a major decrease in crime” after NWCP formed.

Neil Schachter, president of NWCP, likened the recent incidents to an uptick in burglaries and break-ins the area experienced eight years ago, around the time Shomrim of Baltimore formed. Back then, community leaders got together with police and other officials, and through community and police work, culprits from three groups committing the crimes were caught.

A similar meeting between religious leaders and county and city police took place in December, said Schachter, adding that he saw increased patrols following that meeting. By his count, five arrests have been made between the county and city, and burglaries and break-ins have slowed down.

“This is Baltimore, and unfortunately we have crime all the time,” explained Schachter. “The beginning of that [wave] was surprising. When it kept on coming, that shows it was something unusual. … We’re hoping that it’s over.”

Shomrim spokesman Nathan Willner said people are keeping a close watch on suspicious activity and being proactive in the neighborhood, as evidenced by an increase in calls to the neighborhood group. While he acknowledged that crime is going down in the city overall, he said statistics offer little comfort to people who are victims or know victims of crimes.

“I think the main thing is not to cause panic but really make sure people are cognizant of what can happen,” said Willner. “You can’t make it inviting for a would-be criminal to target your house.”

In addition to the overall neighborhood campaign to make sure people lock their cars, lock front doors and windows and don’t answer the door for strangers, city police gave Shomrim a packet that explains other things residents can do to be proactive. The packet includes some of that same advice but also recommended keeping lights on at night, getting a dog, installing alarms and locking sheds and garages. It also advised how to catalog a home in case items are stolen.

Some are taking the police’s advice and getting alarms and even security cameras installed, according to Sauer, who owns the M. Sauer Company — Security Unlimited. His firm has been inundated with requests to update security systems, installing alarms as well as camera systems and wireless cameras, he said.

“People do not feel safe the way they once did,” said Sauer. “They’re concerned for themselves, their families. That’s the fear that’s out there.”

Some are going beyond that, he said, adding that he knows about a dozen people who said they’re going to buy guns for protection.

Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, whose district includes Pikesville, said she understands that people are concerned but does not think recent incidents are indicative of a long-term problem.

“I don’t think that’s our future. I think [the home invasion] was a freak thing that happened,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the beginning of a trend.”

Rabbis at some congregations in the area said they haven’t heard anything from their congregants about crime.

“No congregants have brought it to my attention, so it’s not a serious issue, obviously, from my point of view,” said Rabbi Steven Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom. Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Andrew Busch said that while he’s heard about the incidents, no congregants have brought them to his attention either.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Rikki Spector said that while she has seen great cooperation from volunteer groups and police in the neighborhood, there is a shortage of police manpower. Additionally, criminals seem to move around when police activity is stepped up, she said.

“It’s been my understanding that the crime isn’t going away. When you beef it up somewhere, it just moves,” said Spector. “They’ve beefed it up around the areas surrounding Park Heights, so the bums move.”

And while she maintained it’s a wonderful neighborhood to be in, she has seen some new kinds of incidents that the area hasn’t seen before, citing the arrest of a 15-year-old at Northern Parkway and Roland Avenue who had a gun and was driving a stolen car.

“There is a difference,” she admitted, “and you have to be careful.”

Regardless of the incidents, said residents, no one is packing up and leaving, as the community is determined to be proactive in keeping Northern Park Heights a family friendly area.

“The community, instead, has come together and resolved that they’re not going to let this take over their lives,” said Sauer. “No one is going anywhere.”

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