Neighbors stand up against crime

Friday, Aug. 10, 2007

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Staff Photos by Gary Smith
In Strawberry Hills, Tracey Beall shares a sno-cone with her son, James Beall.

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Charles County Sheriff Rex W. Coffey, right, listens to the Kingsview concerns of Sheila Nelson, left, Leonard Dunn and Myrna Creek.

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Highgrove resident Brendan Moon, center, talks with Charles County sheriff’s Cpl. S.R. Burrows.

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At the Indian Head Village Green Pavilion Morgan Mabry, left, helps Kristi Green set up the Indian Head Volunteer Fire Department’s 911 simulator to help people use the emergency calling number.

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Brandon Savage fixes a hot dog at the Bannister neighborhood pool where Twin Grills Catering prepared plates of hamburgers and hot dogs.

Amid family activities, food and the August humidity, Tuesday’s National Night Out celebration allowed communities to reflect on their roles in the fight against crime.

‘‘We are telling the criminals around here that all of us neighbors are together,” said Victor Allen at the celebration in the Quailwood neighborhood in La Plata. ‘‘We are watching out for each other and, by golly, the criminals should watch out because we are looking for them.”

The 24th annual event brought together county officials, law enforcement officers and community members from all over Charles County in a show of strength against the criminal element.

‘‘It’s important to get a relationship going with the police,” said Scot D. Lucas, the Ward 2 councilman in La Plata. ‘‘National Night Out builds a cohesion between the communities and the police. This makes it a lot easier when something happens to talk with each other, because they have already built a relationship.”

The Charles County Sheriff’s Office said that last year’s National Night Out celebration in the county ranked 13th in the nation, alongside big cities such as Detroit. The sheriff’s office expects this year’s festivities to rank as high nationwide and sees the participation as a tribute to the belief in what community strength can accomplish against crime.

‘‘You don’t think that these kinds of efforts work, but we cleaned up the Malcolm community,” said Charles County Commissioner Samuel N. Graves Jr. (D). ‘‘That neighborhood wasn’t cleaned up by law enforcement; it was cleaned up by the community. The community finally said they had had enough of what was going on down there, and they came out in force.‘‘

This year’s event saw participation from 156 neighborhoods and 48 businesses in the county. Community events usually lasted from around 6 to 9 p.m., with participation ranging from three dozen supportive neighbors to more than 300 citizens enjoying the camaraderie.

‘‘Each and every year our participation is usually up there with the best of them,” said Joseph Countiss at the Pomfret Estates celebration. ‘‘This affair is one of the few affairs that you can bring your kids, your mother and father, everybody to a community gathering.”

Some celebrations in west county filled the Nanjemoy Community Center with families. Nanjemoy’s volunteer fire department was present, and the Western Charles County Community Association handed out free school supplies to the kids.

‘‘We missed it last year, but that’s why we came this year,” Shannon Stebbins said. ‘‘We have neighbors that are going to be coming, too. Plus, we get to meet people in the local area. With the houses being so far away the kids don’t really get to see other kids unless they are in school or doing something like this.”

While lots of food and fun promised a good time, participants in each neighborhood recognized what the night out symbolized and acknowledged a civic responsibility they were all supporting.

‘‘There is a lot of crime in the area and all over the county, and to say to the criminals, ‘We’re not gonna put up with it,’ ‘Get out of our community,’ that’s what this is all about,” said Meg Romero, the rural center coordinator at the Nanjemoy center.

The Pomfret Estates neighborhood has gone to great lengths to ensure its vigilance by putting up and funding its own streetlights and continues to stress neighborhood awareness, according to some residents.

‘‘When I moved here in 1972, a lot of folks said this would be a ghetto in 10 years; not as long as I live here,” Countiss said. ‘‘We have a very active crime watch community. We’ve only had one situation dealing with serious drugs, and now he’s gone. We will squeal on you. A nosey neighbor has saved a lot of people.”

Quailwood residents still had a rash of burglaries fresh in their minds as they gathered Tuesday night.

Late last month, several La Plata communities were hit with a spree of burglaries. About 17 incidents of theft and attempted break-ins were reported over a period of a few days. Police had announced Monday that an arrest had been made in the case.

Tuesday’s outing give residents more cause to reflect on the thread of crime prevention.

‘‘The recent crime wave we’ve had is telling us that there is an element out there that we sometimes have a tendency to forget about,” Victor Allen said. ‘‘We get a little loose and we leave some garage doors open or some front doors open, never thinking that anybody [would] bother with it. But after being reminded that there are people like that out there, that want to grab other people’s assets, we’ve gone around, looked at each other and acknowledged that we need to start locking our front doors.”

E-mail Michael Berger at