First, there’s the story of Dave Cook. Originally from Boston, he would travel to New York to see bands perform because of his job in the music business. The walk to see those bands required traveling through crime-ridden neighborhoods, so he would often carry a gun with him, even though he knew it was illegal.

“I thought my life was worth something,” Cook said.

These days, and for the last nine years, he lives on East All Saints Street in Frederick. He fears that the similarities between the neighborhoods he used to frequent in New York and a handful of neighborhoods in Frederick are piling up.

“I heard someone say that we’re at a point where things could go one way or another,” he said recently about his current hometown’s struggle with crime related to homelessness and addiction. “We’ve reached that point.”

Then, there’s Therese Pelicano. She moved to Frederick about 12 years ago after what she called a personal tragedy. She was once thrilled with what she saw in the city, living in Maxwell Place alongside people she deemed “wonderful.” But eventually things took a turn when she became “bombarded” by people outside her apartment using drugs. She would call the police, though they weren’t much help, she said.

“It has deteriorated over those 12 years and it made me really sad that on September 16th of this year, I moved out of that building,” she explained. “The main reason is because of what’s going on outside.

“My 14-year-old grandson said to me, ‘I love to come see you, but I don’t like to come to your house anymore.’”

She then paused, doing her best to fight back tears.

“And that broke my heart.”

Taking actionStories like those are at the core of why the Downtown Safety and Services Initiative was launched some 12 months ago with preliminary discussions all over the city. A community initiative aimed at jump-starting dialogue regarding “a common vision for prosperity in Frederick,” the plan is led in part by Peter Couchman, director of community benefit projects for the Ausherman Family Foundation, and Gayon Sampson, Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor’s executive assistant.

The framework of DSSI, according to Couchman, is based on work from five committees. A sixth committee, made up of the chairs from the five committees, then steers the course to ensure meetings are happening, ideas are hatched and problems are confronted.

Members of the Frederick Police Department sit on several of the initiative’s subcommittees, including Chief Ed Hargis, who was tapped to help lead an ambassador program.

One of the focuses of the ambassador program will be to examine the possibility of bringing a practice to Frederick that is used by some other cities with larger downtown districts. The idea would be to contract with a private security or similar agency to post “ambassadors” in key downtown locations to help lead visitors to the city who might be unfamiliar with the area, Hargis said.

While not directly related to public safety, Hargis said he could see immediate advantages for the police if such a program were implemented in downtown Frederick.

“These are the types of people who can provide some of that tourism information, and I figure that will end up being a lot of what they do. But they can also serve as additional eyes and ears for the police department in terms of notifying us of possible public safety issues as well,” Hargis suggested. “It’s always a possibility to look at that type of program, and in some cities there’s not only an ambassador program, but also a downtown maintenance program, so there are other possibilities to explore as well.”

Beyond the formation of the committees, however, is perhaps the most important element of the equation: the public.

“Whether you’re serving on a committee or not, you have the opportunity to engage and join the discussion,” Couchman said recently. “At the end of the day, the overall goal of DSSI is to move the needle on the issues that were raised by the community.”

And on the first Tuesday in October, the community spoke about those issues.

Words matterEngaging. Destination. Handsome. Diverse. Fun.

Those were just a few of the words used by members of the community to describe Frederick at DSSI’s first public meeting on Oct. 1. Held at New Spire Stages, the gathering was the first time leaders of the organization heard feedback come directly from city residents in a public forum.

After a quick overview of the program, as well as introductions of the committee chairs, the room was divided into pockets of people seated at tables around the venue’s theater. From there, committee leaders guided conversations aimed at gathering their thoughts on the city where they live.

The first five minutes were devoted to brainstorming key words that describe downtown Frederick. That morphed into discussions about the vision for the future of the city and how everyone can work together to achieve those visions. From there, the results from each table were shared with the rest of the room. Those words — engaging, destination, handsome, diverse and fun — were used to describe downtown in the early stages of the conversations.

With about 45 minutes left in the meeting, the floor was open for anyone to speak. Residents passed a microphone around, as they vented their frustrations and concerns in the downtown area.

At the center of residents’ concerns was homelessness and crime, most poignantly illustrated through the stories shared by Pelicano and Cook. Their frustrations were mostly directed at Mike Spurrier, director of the Frederick Community Action Agency, who this past week was given about a month to finish his duties on the job before being replaced in favor of a different vision for the city program.

Cook said the mayor’s call was the right one. He added that the crimes committed downtown are reaching a fever pitch that can’t be ignored. He cited friends who live in Boston to whom he talks regularly and they talk about always feeling safe in the city.

“Right now, I can’t say that about Frederick,” Cook said.

At the meeting, Spurrier did his best to answer questions and help shed light on both issues, but the dialogue turned away from brainstorming in favor of more pointed speech, with one resident concluding his questioning of why Mayor O’Connor, who weeks later would make the decision to oust Spurrier, wasn’t in attendance by apologizing for “standing on his soapbox,” before adding, “but now I feel better.”

Still, moments like that were what Couchman and Sampson said they were looking for when they stepped to the front of the initiative. A little more than a week before the meeting, Sampson explained how the work his group had done beforehand dictated the atmosphere of such a forum.

“We went out and listened to the community,” he said. “So, this is organic; this is straight from the community. We were able to go on a listening tour to listen to what folks want, so this? This is strictly from the community.”

A factual approachLt. Paul Beliveau, who commands the Frederick Police Department’s Special Operations Division, agreed that listening to the public’s concerns and respecting their perceptions is important, but the department bases its approach on facts.

“We don’t base our success or lack of success on somebody’s individual perception, because that is going to be completely skewed by your own experiences,” Beliveau said. “You may live downtown or have a business downtown and never experience any crime, and your perception is great. But then you could have, one street over, somebody who could have a persistent issue that we’re trying to solve and it could be challenging, and they may think that crime is absolutely horrible. Neither one is completely accurate.”

Overall, part one crimes, which include homicide, manslaughter, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft, have decreased by 12 percent from January through August 2019 compared with the same period last year, according to the department’s statistics.

That said, many of the issues the police department sees specifically in the downtown area are not considered part one crimes, Beliveau said.

“Some of the things we see most often are the possession of spice or synthetic cannabinoids; that’s something we’ve been trying to address and deal with more effectively. You generally see alcohol violations downtown more, because there are more bars downtown, but also in the parks and so forth,” the lieutenant said.

While violent crime may be down, data provided to The Frederick News-Post indicate that total crime along Carroll Creek, South Street and All Saints Street has increased. Frederick police had made 361 arrests in that area as of July 30. That’s an increase of nearly 32 percent from the 272 arrests made in all of 2018.

Violent crimes do happen downtown. Four people were shot outside a bar in the 600 block of North Market Street early on Aug. 31, followed by a stabbing at Carroll Creek Linear Park on Sept. 3 and a second nonfatal shooting in the 400 block of North Market on Sept. 8.

Regardless of the crime, the police department recognizes the unique enforcement needs of downtown, which has its own special unit, the Directed Patrol Team, whose primary focus is to address crime and quality-of-life issues there, Beliveau said.

“The officers are constantly working on crime that is reported, complaints that we get from citizens and business owners, and they use those reports to drive their operations and their enforcements, so their schedules, their shifts and operational strategies are all based on that data,” Beliveau said.

The department tries to supplement its enforcement activities by addressing factors that lead to crime whenever they can, such as by installing lighting or removing bushes from areas to discourage illegal activity by increasing visibility, the lieutenant said.

Opportunities are also available for interested parties to partner with the department outside of generating reports. For example, residents and businesses can register with the department’s Technology and Services Division if they have surveillance cameras or doorbell cameras.

“So if there’s a robbery, we can go down there and determine who has cameras in the geographical area that may have potentially caught the crime or obtained some evidence and we can request that video footage,” Beliveau said. “So again, it’s not just us going in and making arrests that solves problems. That’s just one component of how we solve problems and crime.”

Beliveau himself sits on the DSSI’s safety and security subcommittee, as an example of another partnership the department has embraced.

Listening is keyTwo days after the initial public meeting, Couchman and Sampson were sitting along Carroll Creek, reflecting on the first steps in a marathon that never had any chance of being a sprint. They learned a lot from the first gathering, they said, and despite the mild devolution of where the dialogue eventually went, they saw it all as encouraging steps toward their ultimate goal of continuing to grow Frederick’s prosperity.

“I was psyched with the turnout,” Couchman noted with a wide smile, adding that about 120 people attended the event while he was expecting the number to be closer to 30. “It shows how important the issues we are talking about are to the community. I think it’s important to be able to give a platform to people who need to express their opinions.”

Couchman said he wasn’t sure if the open forum portion of the evening will return for the next meeting, but it’s not because of how things went at the previous meeting; rather, it will come down to what the steering committee thinks is the best approach. As for when that next meeting might come, Couchman was quick to point out that it could be several months.

“We want to reassure the community that we’re working on things,” Sampson said. “So it’s not productive to meet just to meet. We want to give them actual updates that are meaningful.”

Even so, Couchman and Sampson agreed that DSSI is off to a promising start. There’s a lot left to accomplish, they say, but they know that in its current stage, the most important aspect of success is learning.

“Being our first public meeting, of course we are going to learn things from the process,” Couchman said. “It was an opportunity for us to introduce who we were, engage for the first time, take the temperature of the community and gauge where the comments are coming from so that we can direct our own efforts. That helps inform us.”

Sampson agreed.

“The key word for me is just listen,” Sampson added as he stood up from the brick wall on which he’d been sitting.

“‘Listen,’” he said. “That was the key word for me, for the entire time we were together.”

Follow Colin McGuire on Twitter: @colinpadraic.

Follow Jeremy Arias on Twitter: @jarias_prime.

Jeremy Arias is the Frederick city and government reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

(23) comments

bicep42

What a fantastic location for the “upscale “ unimaginative downtown hotel financed with corporate welfare !

TheChad

Committees! Yes, committees will solve the issues.

DickD

Why would anyone with children buy in Frederick?

elymus43

People in the city and county said we needed GROWTH. This is a total MYTH from the start.

MRS M

Clearly, once again, A Wall is the answer to the problem. (Thanks, Donald). Walls have worked through the ages to preserve and protect old cities in Europe, Spanish settlements in early America, and throughout Asia.) I've visited a few....they're nice!


mgoose806

Frederick City is now "mini" Baltimore City. City Government controlled by liberals who's only concern is getting re-elected. Lots of phony effort communicating that they are working on problems through studies, survey's, consultants and sessions. Lots of effort is....no results. Meanwhile the Frederick City Suburban population is similar to Baltimore City's. Have determined to stay out of Frederick City..Why? It's dangerous to walk the streets. Like Baltimore City, they will vote with their wallets. And there is nothing the weak Mayor and Board of Alderman can do. In addition County Council is a joke..Sheriff Jenkins who's life work has been to protect the Citizen's of Frederick County is under attack by any/all Democrats. Along with getting re-elected, Kai Hagen cares more about protecting illegals and the environment then doing what he was elected to do. Frederick City is lost to liberalism.. to late for them. County Citizens need to recognize and elect Federal, State, County, and Local representatives that care about them.

mr_twist27

Please...mini Baltimore? Let's not get carried away with this ridiculousness. Crime in the two cities aren't even comparable.

KR999

You're wrong mr_twist. Crime in the two cities ARE comparable and you should know that just by reading the articles about crimes which are printed in this publication. The only difference is that Frederick doesn't have as many crimes as Baltimore does simply because it's a smaller town, but the crimes here, i.e. shootings, beatings, drugs, gangs, etc. are comparable.

KR999

Well put mgoose, very well and accurately put. I couldn't agree more. [thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Nobis

Your platitudes and overgeneralizations seem well founded. I suggest you and anyone who agrees with you pack up your bags and head to your utopia across the bridge in WV. Good riddance.

PositiveQuantum





I hear from you another dividing comment, "we" vs "them" deal ... You live in a social infrastructure based on several forms of liberal socialism, either you want or not....



Trump GOP admin just gave beaucoup handouts to privileged business minded folks, while cutting benefits from the bottom of the barrel...increasing in crime is a reflection of that...That's the extreme fascist capitalist America you want?

and on top, and regardless of affiliations, Bezos in xchange for his bounty, just cut the benefits of temp workers ... It's never enough for some...



It sounds to me like greed, one of the 7 Punishable Sins that used to be done by death in boiling oil.. probably good quality oil, but still.. :) Russia exploited successfully divisive mindsets like yours in Facebook in last presidential elections, and I think instead, we just need to act accordingly to meet the needs of ALL layers of the population, and stop the blame and stop pretending that a business man is anything more than an employee…..An employee deserves a a living wage , and this should be pretty self explanatory.. That's a good start I think to start a conversation..



And further, how good is a 1.5 million house for sale by Baker Park, when some other people cant afford a place to live? You may be very quick to blame homeless, but you may not want to engage in responsible development.



There are great people everywhere I think, extremes are Bad for everyone, inc the distorted result from irresponsible GOP minded policies (you know, the ones who are sophisticated enough to have two sets of tax books to avoid to paying taxes) that don't support the social programs needed for all .. And then complain there are homeless....and crime…although there are other factors at play, I say: Really?



Potomac seems a better place for people who want to avoid all this mess in Frederick? Or an island as far as I am concerned.... The stuff that happens in the streets is a reflection of the social needs of the population.



I think we just need to continue talking about it without pushing the buck, and the solution will emerge. Development will occur regardless, and what you perceive initially as a weakness, it may be a strength after all, but history will tell. and I had a GOP friend of mine the other day that is an employee, badmouthing the bad health benefits he is getting, and saying he does not want to pay more taxes for social programs. But paying Billions in handouts for businesses inc Facebooks, Amazon and real estate developers is ok, while many big box retailers have not paid living wages for years, while presenting billions in profits each year... I disagree with you about Sheriff Jenkins, I am personally more of a liberal thinker than anything else, and I do disagree with some of his words, but I think he has fine qualities, as any other human being...Love thy neighbor as they say somewhere, wouldn't you agree?

kauaicuda

Prediction:

Police ordered to "clean up the city" by targeting suspicious people, vagrants, etc, Targeting people suspected of crimes for searches, so on and so forth.



Police then targeted by liberals claiming racism and profiling.



Whats it going to be? Because you cant have both. We need realism, not some bleeding heart utopia.

gdunn

Finally someone gets it^^^^^

KR999

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

mr_twist27

S Market St, South St and All Saints St have been higher crime areas since the 90's. I almost find it comical that people paid 500k for their luxury condos and did zero research of the area before buying. Now they want everyone to run around at their behest to fix the problem that's been there since before they were. That being said, the single biggest contributor to the problem is having all the resources for the homeless in a 2 block area. The geographical set up literally encourages the vagrants to congregate in that area.

Frayou

The irony is people (transplants?) who have moved to Frederick over the years to get away from the crime and related problems of the surrounding counties are some of the same people who have are encouraging progressive policy similar to those areas from which the came, unfortunately. This also began when people in those areas years ago realized they could sell their homes for double the cost to build or buy a home in Frederick many years ago. Unfortunately, I don’t think these people even realize this being focus on immediate issues rather than of potential long term effects of policies they developed or approved.

Lev928

Dave Cook and those in Frederick that support him have a responsibility to consider WHERE the crime IN Frederick is originating. It's NOT from within Frederick City or Frederick County ... it comes from neighboring areas of Montgomery County, Baltimore City, Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and Hagerstown (which suffers the same consequences of relocated families of inmates and their release back into communities where they don't belong). Gangs were never established in Hagerstown until inmates in state prisons were relocated there ... and then subsequently released locally. It applies to Frederick as to location, convenience, cost-of-living and subsidy housing (at taxpayer expense, of course). Frederick also suffers the FACT that it is trying to emulate the most politically corrupt county in the nation ... Montgomery County, Maryland. It's all about revenue from taxes, nothing more. Meanwhile, all of the over-development, traffic and CRIME comes with it. Frederick County citizens need to take back control of their home before its taken over by the transplants from nearby Montgomery County and its allied politicians. It's almost too late.

BunnyLou

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

KR999

I hate to say it Lev, but I believe it's already too late. Frederick City has evolved into a blue city in a red county and as long as there are they ignorant enough to A) allow that to happen and B) continue to let it happen that, combined with the continuous influx of liberal transplants to the area, is causing Frederick to become a smaller version of Baltimore.

gdunn

Incorrect. The vast majority on crime, especially violent crime, are caused by local gangs who have been here for generations.

DickD

That is very true, Gd and most of them hang out on 40 west. The police know where they are.

gdunn

No, most are Sagner/Carver/Country Hill folks. Police do know who they are, arrest them routinely and let out of jail time and time again. These are local beefs, not brought here from B-more or Moco. They've been going on decades and aren't going stop any time soon, regardless of what police do.

PositiveQuantum

you have a few good points, and i think some misleading facts... Your paid taxes just supported a heist towards already wealthy business owners Big time...by this administration...Russians do prey in divisive comments ... Without living wages, people will do what they do... I lived in Baltimore in bad news neighborhood...and one day I saw this young kid that was heading towards gang life. I called him up, and asked him why he was wearing his pants like that, baggy pants. He said because the older boys did. So I asked him if he had watched TV lately and seen a successful and well respected guy with baggy pants showing his underwear, he said no. next day he ran to me, and showed me his pants way up to his waste, with a belt... I do speak with people with baggy pants btw, and some haveway more money than me , the fact I am trying to point out is that this kid just did not have probably a stable family environment, and since the social infrastructure it is what is it in Baltimore, he was falling through the cracks towards gang hustler life. All I am saying is that is very easy to selfishly blame crime on others, while ignoring our own role in the variables that give way to crime to occur...So yeah, your taxes have been used and abused in many ways...Did you know about any of this stuff ? https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/economy_and_business/real_estate_and_development/jefferson-tech-park-continues-to-benefit-from-long-term-deals/article_2066a7ac-b247-54bb-915c-58d6320691b2.html , and if you did know was it fair game for you?

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