WASHINGTON – A funny thing happened after the state named Chesapeake Ranch Estates an anti-crime “HotSpot” — reported crime jumped sharply in the Calvert County community.
But local officials say they are not worried about the apparent increase in criminal activity. Apparent, they say, is the key word.
“It’s kind of like a Catch-22: The crime was always there, but now it’s being reported,” said William Hopkins, lead coordinator for the HotSpot program in the 11,000-resident community in Lusby.
Since Chesapeake Ranch Estates was designated a HotSpot community in mid-1997, the crime rate has jumped 43.5 percent, according to a report Hopkins prepared for the Calvert County Commissioners. At the same time, overall crime in the county fell 6.6 percent, Hopkins said.
By contrast, the majority of communities targeted by HotSpots reported a decrease in crime during the same period, said Marce Scarbrough, evaluation coordinator for the state initiative.
Scarbrough said an increase in crime “is not what we would expect” under the HotSpots Communities Initiative, which provides extra funding for police, probation agents and programs in high- crime areas.
Chesapeake Ranch Estates is one of 36 communities identified in the program, which the state began in mid-1997. When it applied for funding, the community said it was plagued by vandalism, loitering and destruction of property.
The Lusby community got $35,900 from the state in the first year of the program, $20,000 of which went to youth programs. The grant also funded community mobilization programs, addiction recovery services and part of the salary for a community-based police officer.
Hopkins said the grant has helped boost the number of neighborhood watch volunteers in the community from two to 35.
Residents have been “calling more often and for different types of crime, like nuisance, loud music and family disturbances,” since the program began, said Jackie Beckman, the Chesapeake Ranch Estates community organizer.
Of the 1,585 calls from Chesapeake Ranch Estates to the Calvert County Sheriff’s Department in the first 10 months of 1998, there were 147 false alarms, according to Hopkins’ report.
Violent crime in the community actually decreased 25 percent during the year. Theft accounted for much of the crime reported.
Hopkins credited the HotSpots program for the improvement in the violent crime rate, saying the community police officer has been key to that.
Scarbrough said the overall jump in crime reports that Chesapeake Ranch Estates experienced was unusual for HotSpot communities. But that may simply be because others were able to get off the ground faster, he said.
“Some of the jurisdictions were able to pull together fast, while other places had to get people together and build up trust,” Scarbrough said.
Scarbrough and the others were optimistic that the community’s crime rate will go down in six to eight months.
“Chesapeake Ranch Estates is a fairly safe community that has a problem that it needs to deal with,” Scarbrough said. “It’s not the same as Baltimore City or Prince George’s County where people are getting murdered every day.”