Since August, Howard County police had received eight calls about a prowler lurking around the Town & Country apartment complex off Rte. 99 in Ellicott City.

Police officers stepped up their late-night patrols of the neighborhood, but they were unable to apprehend the alleged peeping tom.

Last week, police arrested a Baltimore man and charged him with trespassing. They credit the arrest to the department's month-old community foot patrol program.

Officer Martin Gavin, a police spokesman, said the foot patrol provided police with the edge in the Town & Country case.

"It's difficult trying to catch a prowler," said Gavin, who handles the department's crime prevention program. "A police car is too visible."

On Nov. 25, Officer Jim Freeman and his K-9 dog, Max, were walking through the 546-unit development around 11 p.m. when he spotted a man trying to peer into the windows of ground-level apartments.

Freeman, a nine-year member of the police force, watched the man as he moved from window to window, searching for an apartment with open curtains. At one point, Freeman lost sight of the man in the heavily vegetated area.

When Freeman spotted the man again, he said, the man was lying face down looking into a window with open blinds in the 9000 block of Town and Country Boulevard. Freeman approached the man and arrested him. Police identified him as Mark B. Dhainin, 34.

Police Chief Frederick Chaney announced the new foot patrol program Nov. 9 to increase the visibility and improve community relations with the department's 174 uniformed officers.

The foot patrol program was one of two crime prevention initiatives approved in the department's $12.2 million budget for this year. The department also recently set up a "It's difficult trying to catch a prowler. A police car is too visible."

-- Martin Gavin

street drug unit to combat sales of illegal drugs in shopping centers and apartment complexes.

Under the foot patrol program, each beat officer is expected to walk at least two foot patrols during a nine-hour shift. There are between 17 to 30 police officers in patrol cars on each shift.

Gavin said officers try to get out of their cars and talk to homeowners, merchants and apartment dwellers every day, unless they are responding to an emergency call.

The foot patrols target busy shopping centers, industrial parks, recreation areas and large residential developments.

Gavin said the foot patrols also serve as another source of crime tips for the police department. During chats with homeowners or merchants, officers obtain "good information" on troublemakers or suspicious incidents that often may go unreported, he said.

Residents and merchants say that the foot patrols make them feel safer and may help deter potential shoplifters during the busy Christmas shopping season.

Barney Tissue, a salesman with Harper's Choice TV, said he has seen more police officers recently walking around the St. John's Plaza on west Rte. 40.

Tissue and other merchants at the shopping center said they welcome the foot patrols. "It sounds like a good idea," Tissue said. "It may help deter crime."