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Cascade residents concerned about crime at Fort Ritchie

October 21, 2002|by TARA REILLY

By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Cascade area residents and tenants of former U.S. Army base Fort Ritchie say crime is on the rise in the partially vacant complex and that they haven't been getting much help from the Washington County Sheriff's Department or PenMar Development Corp.

"It is not patrolled at all," said Alexis Gregson, who lives on Mountain Road at the former base.

Gregson said Friday there has been an increase in drug use and vandalism t the former base over the last two years, with most of the activity happening on West Record Avenue. Much of the crime is caused by teenagers who smash windows of vacant houses, start drunken fights and break into homes, she said.

She said sheriff's deputies don't always respond to calls at the former base, including those for domestic violence. She said about a year and a half ago she waited until 4 a.m. with a woman who had been beaten by her husband, but deputies never showed up.

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This past summer, she said, the Sheriff's Department was called to a large fight in the middle of the night that lasted for more than an hour but, again, no deputies came.

Residents have scheduled a public meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. to discuss the lack of coverage with Sheriff Charles F. Mades. The meeting will be held at Germantown Church of God at 16924 Ravenrock Road in Cascade.

Gregson said residents are so frustrated she wouldn't be surprised if the meeting got out of control.

"I will be almost willing to bet money that it's going to turn ugly really fast. People are upset," Gregson said. "I hope and pray that it doesn't happen."

Mades declined to discuss the concerns Friday.

"We'll have some answers for them Tuesday night," Mades said.

Karl Weissenbach, chairman of the Cascade Committee, said residents of the former base have been voicing concerns to him about the illegal activity.

"We're getting more and more concerns from the residents, which indicates to me that we have a major problem down there," Weissenbach said.

Weissenbach said about 140 families live at the former base.

He also said the crime is spreading throughout the Cascade area.

Bill Spigler, who works on the former base, said he's also heard people talk about the crime, such as setting fires in the woods and breaking windows.

Gregson and Weissenbach said the Sheriff's Department and PenMar need to work together to come up with a solution.

Both also said a reason for the lack of police coverage may be that the Sheriff's Department is understaffed, but that doesn't mean residents don't deserve protection.

"We deserve the same protection as everybody else in the county does," Gregson said. "We pay our taxes, too."

"If there's only so many deputies on duty at any given time, how can they be at Cascade?" Weissenbach asked. "The problem is how do you address that issue?"

PenMar was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1998 to redevelop the former base.

Brett Wilson, chair of the PenMar Board of Directors, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Gregson and Weissenbach said they'd like to see a resident deputy program to ensure police coverage.

They also suggested that PenMar provide deputies with discounted or rent-free apartments at the base in exchange for coverage.

Weissenbach said the criminal activity might subside if Washington County government and PenMar provided more recreational opportunities for youth.

"People get bored, and when they get bored they get in trouble," Weissenbach said. "We could have a cop on every corner, but it's still not going to give our kids something to do."

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