Anne Arundel County officials said Thursday they are devoting additional law enforcement resources and officers to tackle crime spurred by so-called "nuisance hotels" in Laurel but offered no specifics on how the new initiative would work or be funded.
County Executive Steve Schuh said during a news conference the county will support an increased effort by law enforcement to clean up the area on Route 198.
Called "Operation Laurel Safe Passage," the initiative will focus on a string of four hotels that have been an area of concentrated drug crime and prostitution, law enforcement officials said.
"These hotels are dens of crime; prostitution, drugs and even murder," Schuh said. "It has created a climate of fear that will not be tolerated by this administration."
The County Council is weighing a bill that would allow police to issue a public nuisance notice to businesses with 10 or more "nuisance" arrests, opening the door for the county to force offending business to temporarily shut down while they address the issues.
Schuh opposes the bill, fearing it could also affect larger businesses like Maryland Live casino and the malls. Wednesday's news conference, held in a grassy field off of Route 198 between a Wal-Mart shopping center and not far from the hotels in question, affirmed Schuh's desire to see law enforcement take the lead on the issue.
While Schuh lauded the efforts of the police department to address the area's issues, alongside a health department with newly minted abilities to crack down on housing violations, he said the area still sees a disproportionate amount of criminal activity.
Statistics provided by the police department don't indicate any significant increase in crime reported at three of the four hotels, with only the Knights Inn reporting a 24 percent increase in crime from 2015 to 2016. However, Altomare and Schuh focused on how the community at large didn't feel safe. Several members of the community joined the press in asking Schuh questions about how the initiative would work.
"These efforts have been effective, but these hotels are still hot spots for the criminal activity that diminishes the quality of life for the citizens of Russett," Schuh said.
Neither Schuh nor county Police Chief Timothy Altomare gave specifics on how the police force assigned to Laurel would either be increased or given additional resources. Altomare said the police department did not want to tip off any potential criminals about its activities.
When the county executive was asked if he planned to give the department any additional funding to facilitate the change, he said the department will get "whatever financial commitment the police department needs" to support the effort. Altomare later said any additional funding received by the police department would be used in a "fiscally responsible way."
"If you think about recent history in Laurel, there's a reason that the fear is present that the county executive talked about a few minutes ago," Altomare said. "And at the end of the day, reducing fear of crime is just as much as part of the police's job as reducing the crime itself."
The chief said that while the "overt pressure" maintained by the police department's increased presence would be in the community "until, the very least, until it's hot out here this summer."