Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Attack on blind Bowie resident rallies community

Oak Pond hopes to form neighborhood watch to keep crime out

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
Harry and Shirley Pereira walk with their dog Rascal to the bus stop on Tuesday morning in Bowie. This section of the path is where Harry was assaulted on his walk home from work onOct. 1.
Harry Pereira used to walk four blocks from his Bowie townhome to the bus stop twice a day. But that was before the blind, Oak Pond resident was attacked twice in broad daylight, his nose bloodied on one occasion.

Nowadays, Pereira, 55, walks with his wife to join the bus or gets rides from co-workers to avoid putting himself at risk again.

Disgusted at news of the attacks, the Oak Pond Homeowners Association is now forming a neighborhood watch to help deter crime.

‘‘The whole community was in an uproar and the whole community wanted to do something,” said Oak Pond HOA president Terri Troutman.

In August, a stone hurled by someone hit Pereira in the head, and in October someone punched him in the face. No one has been arrested in connection with the incidents.

‘‘I’m getting rides now and I get home 45 minutes later now because some young punk let me have it,” said Pereira, who received a bloody nose in the second incident.

Pereira is unsure why he was targeted.

In between the two attacks, someone shattered the glass panel enclosing the bus shelter. Pereira said he is unsure whether the vandalism meant the person wanted to target him again.

‘‘These were inadvertent acts of meanness,” Troutman said. ‘‘Everybody knows Harry. He’s very well liked and it’s a shame he’s been singled out like this.”

Oak Pond is a townhouse community located south of Allen Pond Park. According to the Bowie Police Department, seven incidents of vandalism, one assault, and one residential break-in were reported there between September and November, the period for which the latest statistics are available. Those statistics do not include incidents reported to county police officers, who also patrol the area. Pereira said since he moved to the neighborhood 10 years ago, he has not heard of any similar attacks on individuals.

Pereira said his wife, Shirley, posted signs throughout Oak Pond alerting residents about the incidents. The result was an outpouring of support. Residents decided to pursue the formation of a neighborhood watch to keep Pereira and the rest of the community safe.

On Jan. 16, HOA members met with Bowie police officers to discuss forming the neighborhood watch.

‘‘The neighborhood watch is only going to be as good as the neighborhood makes it,” Bowie police officer Bennie Henderson told the group.

Henderson distributed information packets to residents about the structure and responsibilities of a neighborhood watch. They must now pick block captains and set up a communication network for the watch, which usually entails the exchange of phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and the startup of a listserv to help residents communicate with one another on a regular basis. Henderson said the Bowie Police Department could give additional training to the leaders chosen.

In the last six months, Henderson has helped to start three new Bowie neighborhood watch programs and has met with the membership of seven others, including Oak Pond. He said the flurry of interest in neighborhood watches has come not from an increase in crime but from an increase in the reporting of suspicious activity to the Bowie Police Department, established a year ago.

‘‘It’s really crime that’s been there but people are starting to report it more because we have our own department and they see us out there and know we will respond,” Henderson said.

Henderson said the department sent extra patrols to Oak Pond after Pereira’s attacks, but did not find whoever was responsible. He said a neighborhood watch could put more eyes on the streets and get information quickly to the police about suspicious activity.

Pereira says he hopes more residents and the police would be on the lookout for felons and vandals.

‘‘I would like whoever did this to be brought to account and I would like to see the neighborhood care enough about the neighborhood to do something,” Pereira said. ‘‘They did this in broad daylight. ... They are emboldened now. What would this kid try next?”

The Oak Pond HOA is scheduled to meet again Feb. 19 to continue working on plans for the neighborhood watch group.

E-mail Andrea Noble at anoble@gazette.net.

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Anyone interested in starting a neighborhood watch group in Bowie is asked to contact Officer Bennie Henderson at 301-575-2480.