The trailer isn't fancy -- just a blue-gray, 50-foot-long box. For many Oakland Mills residents, it's a long-awaited part of the village's revitalization efforts.
This week, Howard County police officially opened a substation in the trailer, in the parking lot of the Oakland Mills Village Center. It will serve as an office for a full-time community police officer and a meeting place for parole and probation agents. Police Chief G. Wayne Livesay was to preside over the opening Tuesday night in a ribbon-cutting ceremony that was part of the department's activities for National Night Out, an annual celebration of crime prevention efforts.
Barbara Russell, the Columbia Council member who represents Oakland Mills, said the more visible police presence would not only help deter crime but also encourage residents to talk to police about their neighborhood concerns.
"They can talk about minor problems before they become major problems," Russell said. "We feel that this is going to have a lot of positive benefits."
Since October, Officer Mike Johnson has been assigned to the area as its community police officer. He worked from a less visible office tucked inside the Other Barn, which houses the neighborhood and teen center. Johnson, who has been with the Howard County Police Department since 1998, will continue as the village's community officer.
Since Johnson arrived last fall, police have been receiving fewer calls about loitering, auto thefts and disorderly conduct, said Officer Richard Malcolm, a police spokesman. But Johnson said there is still much work to be done.
As he walked the neighborhood one afternoon recently, Johnson pointed out two young men who were watching him. The men, who Johnson said had been convicted of drug charges, walked on a public bike path because they had been banned by police from setting foot on the private property of village apartment complexes.
But once one of the men thought Johnson was out of sight, he breezed through a parking lot and into an apartment building. Johnson later arrested him for violating the police ban.
"It's very frustrating for me as a police officer," Johnson said.
Renee Buckman, director of the village's teen center, said the substation is likely to spark renewed interest in the neighborhood and activity in the village center. In recent years, a number of businesses in the shopping area shut down.
A Food Lion grocery store is expected to open at the end of the year, replacing the Metro Food Market, which closed in 2001.
"It's definitely going to take time," Buckman said. "Revitalization takes time and careful planning. I think with the right chemistry from everyone, it's going to happen."
Oakland Mills is the third Columbia village to open a police substation; Long Reach and Harper's Choice each have a satellite office that opened several years ago as part of the state's HotSpots program, a crime-fighting initiative that has been renamed Collaborative Supervision and Focused Enforcement, or CSAFE. The Oakland Mills substation cost $35,000 and is being paid for by the police department.