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Unruly Teens And Crime Tarnish Idyllic Vibe

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(AP Photo/Josh Anderson)

(AP Photo/Josh Anderson)

By BRIAN ENGLAR
The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — For Sun Young Park, owner of Hinode restaurant, the quality of the food and service isn’t the only consideration when it comes to her customers’ dining experience.

Park said crime and disorder along Carroll Creek — which she largely attributes to groups of young people who gather in the area — have led to safety concerns. She said diners have been harassed and others are subjected to nuisances such as loud profanity, fighting and bicyclists who ride through crowded areas, forcing them to get out of the way. Several patrons seated in the patio area have walked away from their meals, she said.

“They felt a scary feeling, so they left,” Park said. “They let us know that it is not comfortable to sit down outside on the patio.”

Park said she believes Frederick police are doing all they can, although the culprits are typically long gone by the time they arrive. She said she likes the Carroll Creek Way location, so she doesn’t plan to look elsewhere, but she wants the city to acknowledge the problem and take more steps to combat what has
become a growing concern for residents and business owners.

“They have to recognize this problem, that is the first thing,” Park said.

Richard Griffin, director of the Frederick Department of Economic Development, said the city is well aware of the crime and nuisance activity along Carroll Creek, particularly on weekends and summer evenings.

“Obviously, we are sensitive to this issue because everyone wants downtown to be successful,” Griffin said.

Griffin said his office has been working closely with police and business owners. He cited cooperative efforts to install several security cameras on private property, as well as plans by the city to put in more.

He said another aspect of those efforts is educating business owners about the importance of calling police when they see a crime being committed.

“We don’t want it to get out of control,” Griffin said. “And I think we do a good job of keeping it in check.”

Kevin Parrotte, who spends much of his time along Carroll Creek, said the situation is already out of control. He said loud profanity, littering and unsafe bicycle and skateboard riding are regular occurrences, but the undesirable activity doesn’t stop with simple nuisance behaviors.

Parrotte said he and other homeless Frederick residents are regularly harassed and sometimes assaulted by groups of teens, many of whom he said claim affiliation with local gangs. He said he has been assaulted and knocked unconscious, and during one recent incident, Parrotte said a group of teens calling themselves the T-9 Bloods pelted him and his friend Charles Jones with rocks.

Parrotte said police are largely ignoring the problems. He said officers are rarely around when crimes are being committed and aren’t doing enough to address the issues proactively.

“They’ve got to get a handle on it, and they’ve got to be in control,” Parrotte said.

Some residents and business owners have expressed support for a curfew that would keep minors out of the park overnight.

“These teenagers are down here at all hours of the night riding their bikes around,” Jones said. “What are they doing down here at 3 o’clock in the morning riding their bikes around? They have no business being down here.”

Frederick had a youth curfew from 1978 until 1992, when a county judge overturned it. A state judge later ruled that the curfew violated minors’ constitutional rights.

Frederick police spokesman Lt. Clark Pennington said enforceable or not, a curfew is hardly a panacea for the problems along Carroll Creek.

“What I do think is that working with the public through education, working with the juveniles that are down there, showing them what basically is allowed and what isn’t allowed through police enforcement and police education, that’s what is going to solve this problem,” Pennington said. “Not locking people up or
charging people who are out after 10 or 11 o’clock.”

Pennington said his department is always looking for creative solutions and partnerships that don’t necessarily involve enforcing the law, especially when it comes to issues of perceived disorder. He cited cooperation with the Community Action Agency, which he said police frequently contact regarding complaints about homeless people congregating along the creek.

“If the issue is that they’re hanging out at the mouth of the entrance, maybe we can do something to stop them from hanging out at the mouth of the entrance,” he said. “Give them somewhere else to go.”

But Pennington said ultimately, if people aren’t committing crimes they are free to gather along the creek, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or public perception. He said police are often called on to act as a balance between what some people might want and what is legally permissible.

Pennington said he has heard the complaints about police not doing enough and not having enough officers in the area. He said the issue is largely one of resources.

“If the public has the expectation that they want police officers 24 hours a day walking that creek, their expectation isn’t reality based on resources,” Pennington said. “But with the resources we’ve been given, we’ve done a great job and as statistics have shown, we are effectively combating crime in the
city.”

Janelle Belles, salon coordinator at Structures Salon, said she has called the police several times for various reasons. Belles — who said the problems she has seen usually center on groups of teens — said her experience with the police has been generally positive.

“Every single time I’ve called the police, they’ve been here within a reasonable amount of time,” Belles said. “I know they are doing what they can, and I understand that there are only so many police officers. I truly feel like it stems from the parents.”

Chief Kim Dine is quick to point out that the department has ramped up patrols in the area and that arrests have been made in the vast majority of reported serious crimes along the creek, which have included several stabbings, as well as assaults and robberies.

Dine said the issues police face along Carroll Creek aren’t unique to Frederick but are amplified because the phenomenon is relatively new. He said it will take time and continued effort to bring the situation under control.

“The most successful cities that have created a place for people to come battle this challenge as well,” Dine said.

Dine said the officers who patrol the creek get to know the people who spend a lot of time there, and have a good handle on which are the most likely to cause trouble. Students’ return to school makes the job easier, Dine said.

“It will crystallize it because a large population of kids will be busy doing other things,” Dine said. “If there are still some groups of kids down there, those are kids who are not involved in sports or after-school activities.”

Parrotte said he believes many of the teens aren’t going to school at all and wonders where truant officers and parents are while kids are hanging out along Carroll Creek at all hours.

“You can’t just dump your kids on the city,” Parrotte said. “That’s abandonment.”

Despite the well-publicized issues, Griffin said Carroll Creek — along with the rest of the downtown area — is a safe place for businesses, residents and visitors. The likelihood of a random visitor or resident becoming a crime victim is extremely low, he said.

Griffin cites the planned fall opening of a new restaurant, the Wine Kitchen, next to Hinode as evidence that the creek is doing well and is a safe place to visit despite the problems.

“It is disturbing, but these things have been going on since the beginning of time,” Griffin said. “If you look at the statistics out there, downtown is a very safe place to be.”

But Jones — who said he recently got into a shelter — said he doesn’t feel safe. He said he will stay away from the creek for the most part.

“I’m done,” Jones said. “I’ve seen enough.”

Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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