The first meeting of the Friends of Carroll Creek Urban Park was held in Frederick this week to introduce the newly formed organization, but the conversation quickly turned to crime in the area — and how merchants and police could better work together to eliminate it.
The group’s organizers invited city officials to discuss aspects of the park Monday night, such as a $13 million project to extend the creek’s finished area to Highland Street, or the planting of water lilies to help curb persistent algae problems.
But it was complaints from shop owners about loitering and drug use in the area that dominated the discussion with leaders of the Frederick Police Department during the meeting, which was attended by about 40 people at the nearby C. Burr Artz Library.
Rollie Belles, the owner of Structures Salon, said he was frustrated to hear about plans to expand the park because it won’t solve the current problem.
Belles, who said he’s seen people deal drugs outside his store and hang out in the area all day, wants those issues resolved first before the park is expanded.
John McCain, general manager of the The Wine Kitchen, echoed a similar sentiment, saying the people who linger on the raised flower beds along Market Street at the entrance to the park create a barrier to entering the area.
“I just don’t want to see [the steps made to beautify the area] get lost, and all the time and effort and money go for naught,” McCain said. “... I think the creek could draw a lot of people in the county — it could draw a lot of people from out of the county.”
He said the city is not doing enough to make the area near Carroll Creek appealing.
Departing city Police Chief Kim Dine, who was present at the meeting, said the department made more than 600 arrests in the downtown area in the last year, although he didn’t elaborate on the nature of those crimes.
Dine said the park was designed as a place for people to gather, and the majority of those spending time there aren’t aiming to cause problems. Although there were some “knuckleheads” who were the root of the complaints, he said residents and merchants shouldn’t lump groups together based on their clothing.
“Some are just kids hanging out,” Dine said. “You may not like the way they dress — they’ve got their pants halfway down, but they’re kids. They’re hanging out and looking at the boys and girls, and doing what kids do. That’s because we built a beautiful place to come.”
Capt. Tom Ledwell, who became acting police chief Wednesday, also attended the meeting. He said the department is attempting to address the complaints by making sure officers are in the areas where they are needed.
“We're always struggling to prioritize our staffing to ensure the best quality of life,” Ledwell said.
The department had created a downtown beat that has officers regularly patrolling the creek and other streets with bicycles, Segway scooters and on foot, which is aimed at creating more officer visibility and curbing crime, he said.
Ledwell encouraged residents and business owners to report all criminal activity to police. He said officers were aware of the issues residents and owners had raised, and hoped the foot patrols would help curb such activity.
“If behavior crosses the line, you’re going to get locked up,” he said. “... Some things are more difficult to catch than others. Hopefully, with the increased foot beats, we can deal with that and the perception issue.”
The Friends of Carroll Creek, which will have a dues-paying membership, will collect funds that will be used to increase public safety, enhance entertainment and comfort in the area, and work on beautification, in particular through the water-lily planting and algae treatments in the creek.
The group has established a fund with the Community Foundation of Frederick County to receive tax-deductible donations. To make a donation to the group, visit www.cffredco.org/ccurbanpark. Checks can be made to the Community Foundation of Frederick County, with the specific fund noted on the memorandum line and mailed to 312 East Church St., Frederick, MD 21701.