Updates were recorded live during the meeting.
County Councilman David Marks opened the meeting with a review of recent legislation and issues he has worked on in the Fifth District. He talked about rezoning, his open space initiative and his proposal for mandatory term limits of councilmembers.
"We live in relatively safe communities ... while it seems we have rash of burglaries and rash of crime, it's still a relatively safe community. I have very good contact with precinct commanders ... but there are always ways we can improve," Marks said.
He introduced members of Towson COP groups, calling their groups some of the best organized in Baltimore County. He also introduced Maj. Al Jones of the Eastern Patrol, who presides over Towson, Essex, White Marsh and North Point. Jones praised COP groups.
"Whenever they see something suspicious or something that doesn't look right, they call the police ... and that makes a difference," Jones said. "I think they do a fantastic job. I hope you can take what they say and take it back to your community."
Capt. Michael Balog of the White Marsh Precinct introduced his community outreach officers as contacts for those Perry Hall community members interested in forming COP groups.
"I am so honored to represent Towson, Parkville and Perry Hall ... they are wonderful communities," Marks said, before turning the meeting over to the Towson COP reps.
"We've become a network ... we know that crime comes in waves," said Janice Mac Gregor Acrieri, a Towson COP leader. "We started in one community and we pushed the crime into the community over, and we felt bad for them so we got them involved too. Now we have 25 neighborhoods."
"Every resident is a COP, whether they know it or not ... you can be a driver, but you can also be a runner or a dog walker," she said.
"The key is if you see something, say something. Don't just call us the next morning," she said.
Acrieri said she requested crime analysis for her Towson neighborhood and found a significant decrease in crime following the introduction of her COP's to the community.
"I love my light," she said, while holding the flashing light she puts on her car while patrolling. "Criminals, if they see there is a COP presence, they will go elsewhere. People walking around in COP vests—it's visible."
"COP has kind of an attitude—don't mess with us," Acrieri said.
"We're so grateful to be connected to Perry Hall through David," she added, while pointing some similarities between Towson and Perry Hall.
Another representative of a Towson COP, Pat France, said COPs have many different styles.
She said the majority of organizations don't require neighbors to join and don't have required hours. Some compensate members for gas.
"It's all how you set it up and how you want to run it," she said. "Do they all use flashing lights? Some do and some don't. Some have magnetic signs for their cars."
"There's an advantage and disadvantage for having a marked car," she said, adding that sometimes it helps to be "undercover."
"That's the advantage of being on watch when you return from social events late at night. One of the things we encourage people to do is to track their hours and when they're out," said Acrieri.
"A lot of people won't sign up for this until they become victims," said another Towson COP leader.
"When you know people are interested, make a map so they know the limit of their communities—not that you have to be limited. I wave to the other COPs," France said.
COP leaders talked about interacting with Towson University wand working with police to combat student crime.
A leader of a Perry Hall HOA asked if the COP has ever dealt with crime from homeowners and drug activity.
Towson COP leaders said that was occasionally a problem.
A member of a community near the old Perry Hall library said she was trying to encourage elderly residents to contact police and not be afraid of retaliation.
Police said calls can be made anonymously, but callers should be as specific as possible.
"[The non-emergency number] 410-887-2222 and 911 go to the same person," said Balog. "Give them as much information as you can."
Patch asked how far people should go in preventing crime, if they should follow suspected criminals in their cars.
"We don't ask them to put themselves in harm's way," said one of police representatives, Sgt. Steve Fink, commander of the Towson precinct. He brought up a past case in Rodgers Forge, where community members helped locate a suspicious vehicle.
"The criminal element in the neighborhood will continue if the neighbors allow it too. You have rights as neighbors to protect your neighborhood. You don't have to follow people, just keep your curtains open and watch your neighborhoods," he said.
He encouraged residents to contact police immediately if something suspicious is happening.
"All we're asking you to do is be active in your neighborhood ... you call on us and we'll get an officer out there ... I'm not asking you to put yourself in harm's way. Baltimore County is a large geographic area. We have a lot of people. There is no jurisdiction large enough for a police officer for every citizen. You have to protect yourself. The reason you fear retaliation is because you fear your neighbors won't stick up for you. All I'm asking you to do is keep your drapes open and be active in your neighborhoods. You will push the crime out," Fink said.
"If you have information about narcotics in your neighborhood, get car descriptions, get suspect descriptions," Fink said. "These guys will get out of your neighborhood if they know you're active."
"You will chase the criminal element out of your neighborhood, I guarantee it. [COPs] chase the majority of it out," Fink said. "Just understand what goes on your neighborhood."
"I have nice neighbors, I've lived here so long, then why did I get robbed? I left home for an hour and a half," an attendee said.
Fink said the criminal must have known her routine. "They must have been watching ... neighbors need to report suspicious vehicles," he said.
Balog said that spreading information and sharing news stories on Patch can help educate neighbors how to protect each other.
A Kingsville woman said she organized her neighbors and exchanged contact information so they could protect each other. Now she knows who has what types of dogs and types of cars. She invited a police officer to speak to the community about crime prevention.
"That's been a helpful thing for us," she said.
"That's citizens on patrol," Fink said.
A Perry Hall woman asked how burglars pick houses.
Fink said a lot of burglaries happen by people who have been inside the house, including teenage friends.
Balog said there are career burglars too, who scope out neighborhoods.
"Maybe they'll try to knock on your front doors, and when there's no answer, they come to the back door," Balog said. "We've had some cases similar to that."
A Towson COP leader in Rodgers Forge said he started out just as a frustrated neighbor. "Burglaries were terrible in our neighborhood," he said. He told a story about burglaries committed by neighbors.
Most burglars hit homes with unlocked doors and windows, he said.
Rodgers Forge got down to just one burglary last year, he said, adding that his COP's Facebook page and website have helped spread information. They also have a Twitter account.
"Our neighborhood is 67 years old. Some residents are original owners who aren't into Facebook. We pass out fliers telling people to lock their doors," he said.
Baltimore County police have also put together an iWatch website that assists with spreading information. The SpotCrime website is also helpful, he said.
An attendee asked if lighting is a help or a hindrance to burglary.
A police representative said lights are helpful because criminals at night don't want to be seen.
"Under no circumstances, do you ever get out of your car and engage [a suspect]," the Rodgers Forge COP rep said.
A meeting attendee from Overlea said her neighborhood also has block captains and some neighborhoods have "safe houses" for kids walking home from school.
A Kingsville woman said it's also important to spread information about each other in case of fires.
The Rodgers Forge representative said if people can't organize a COP, they can still get to know their neighbors.
White Marsh officers said they would be happy to attend community meetings, HOA and COP meetings.
A Perry Hall woman said she doesn't live in a housing development or newer neighborhood, but asked how she could get this started. COP reps gave her a T-shirt and told her to contact the Perry Hall Improvement Association and White Marsh officers.
Marks closed the meeting and thanked attendees and representatives.
Check Patch for live updates.
The Fifth District Community Advisory Council meeting will include representatives of the Towson Area COP program and Capt. Michael Balog of the White Marsh police precinct. They plan to present information on how neighborhood watch groups can improve public safety, Marks announced.
"I had no idea when planning this presentation that Perry Hall would soon experience a series of burglaries and other crimes," Marks stated in a recent blog post.
"Perry Hall is still one of the safest communities in eastern Baltimore County. Still, I am extremely concerned about recent events and urge the public to remain vigilant and observant," he stated.
Some neighborhoods in the South Perry Hall area, including Stillmeadow/Eastbrook and Wolsingham, already have COP groups. In August 2011, both participated in National Night Out activities to build awareness about the groups, build unity and promote better interaction with police and firefighters.
In advance of National Night Out, PHIA president Dennis M. Robinson, Jr. encouraged even those residents without COP groups to walk their streets and better get to know their neighbors.
Would you join a Citizens on Patrol group if it were formed in your neighborhood? Tell us in the comments.