Prospect district residents and council discuss safety concerns

MD-hurlock meeting 3x-052316

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Hurlock Councilman Charles Cephas makes a point during the May 16 meeting between council members and residents of the Prospect Heights district. The session was held to address methods of combating crime in the area and improve the neighborhood’s quality of life.

HURLOCK — More than a dozen residents of Hurlock’s Prospect district met with town officials on May 16 to discuss safety concerns and offer suggestions for improvement. Voices rose and fell as impassioned, concerned citizens expressed their opinions and responded to comments by Mayor Joyce Spratt, Town Administrator John Avery, council members Charles Cephas, Earl Murphy, and Russell Murphy and attorney Robert Merriken.

The mayor opened the meeting by asking for suggestions to improve safety other than the additional lighting and security cameras in areas around the Prospect Heights apartments that have already been approved. “Tell us what you think,” she said. “This is your meeting. We want to hear what you have to say.”

One resident noted they have had trouble with “kids messing with our property.” She and her husband have trouble with trespassers despite a fence around the property.

Ms. Spratt said, “At one point they were ripping the lights out in the pavilion and tearing down the fences.” Fixing lights and fences is expensive she noted. Town Administrator John Avery explained, “it’s $500, $600, $700 each time we fix them.”

A small gate at the park should be locked nightly but according to some residents that does not always happen. Mr. Avery explained the chain and lock should be locked together during the day so nobody can take them and the gate relocked at night.

The mayor explained most trouble is at the Prospect Heights apartments and secondarily at the park. “We’re just open for suggestions. We’ve met with the apartment people and the security people also to get an estimate of how much it will cost to do all this.” At a previous town meeting it was noted the property owners have a responsibility to care for the property. Cederick Turner felt the property owners “need to meet with their tenants and know their concerns.”

Mayor Spratt responded, “We can’t micromanage the property owners. They’ve only owned this property for several months.” She said she has asked residents why they do not call police when they see drug activity. “The answer is often ‘they don’t bother us and we don’t bother them.’ What we wanted to do tonight was get your ideas about what we can do other than what we’ve done already. We’ve met with them (property owners) and we have to give them enough time to get it done. To get the cameras installed and see what happens then. We’re never going to get rid of all the drugs” but it may deter drug use and save a life.

A lengthy discussion followed about the lack of activities for children and the benefits of providing a community youth center and additional activities. “I’m not worried about the grown-ups, I’m worried about the kids,” said one resident.

Bonnie Nichols, a long-time Prospect resident, calmly expressed her viewpoint: “I believe that we as parents need to become more accountable about what is happening around us. We used to have CrimeWatchers. “We need to get back to that and be more responsible for each other. We do have things for the children to do but it’s up to the parents.” She suggested a community center and perhaps a police substation in the area. “If we can keep them (youngsters) busy they won’t get in trouble. It starts with us.

Mayor Spratt added, “Maybe if there were planned activities and structured programs for the kids two nights a week and maybe Saturdays. It takes somebody to take the lead. That’s where it has to start.”

Hurlock Police Cpl. Johnnie Beasley attended the meeting in an unofficial capacity because “it’s important to me. I’m not working. I’m here because I want to be here.”
He believes safety is vital. “We could put a community center there, have dances, but all of that will be destroyed if there’s violence. None of the other stuff will last just like the pavilion is not lasting until we get control of the crime.”

Councilman Charles Cephas suggested that first-time renters should be made aware of their responsibilities. He noted a previous Prospect Heights apartments committee should reorganize and also urged residents to join the Concerned Citizens of Prospect Heights of which Ms. Nichols is a proponent.

The group “is there and will be there. We want to be involved in our community. It is going to take us all working together as one. The police can’t do everything. Safety begins with the adults.”

Rev. Cephas emphasized a union between police and the community. “The police can only do so much. We have to take back our streets. Citizens sticking together; it works,” and later added, “Don’t waste my time if you’re not going to take action.

“One step at a time,” said Ms. Spratt. “Bonnie, let’s put the ball in your court.” The mayor asked Ms. Nichols if she could “double this crowd the next time.”

The officer on duty carries a phone at all times and can be reached at 410-310-9487 when a citizen needs help or to report a problem.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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