Laurel community denies claims of constant danger despite high crime rate

An ornament resting in the middle of a small fountain during a slightly overcast afternoon at the Towne Centre in Laurel, Md, on Monday, Sept. 3, 2018. (Alexandra Glover/The Black Explosion)

An ornament resting in the middle of a small fountain during a slightly overcast afternoon at the Towne Centre in Laurel, Md, on Monday, Sept. 3, 2018. (Alexandra Glover/The Black Explosion)

“Hurry up! Grab it! Grab it now!”

Elmer Rosales glances up from his iPhone questioningly before rolling his eyes with a fatigued sigh. The 20-year-old shakes his head to himself. His solitary plastic bag dangles idly from his lower arm, as a small cluster of hooded figures whisper not-so-discreetly to one another next to the front door of Giant in the Laurel Shopping Center. The rowdy quintet exchanges a few more words before all of them plummet into a devious silence.

Each wanders casually into the grocery store, grabs their own two-liter bottle of soda from the metal rack near the entrance and strolls out of the entrance without blinking twice.

Rosales recalled that the worst part was the daylight thieves not being older than 12 or 13.

Hidden beneath the two drowning shadows of Baltimore and Washington whispers a much lesser known city on the banks of the surging Patuxent River.

An eclipsed city, despite its relatively compact population of about 26,000 individuals, has revealed itself to be just as perilous and susceptible to crime as its northern and southern metropolitan neighbors.

That obscured, yet nowhere near silent, city is Laurel, Maryland.

The Prince George’s County municipality, whose unincorporated districts wander lazily across three additional county lines – Montgomery, Howard and Anne Arundel – possesses one of the state’s highest crime rates. According to NeighborhoodScout, Laurel carries a crime rate of 44 per 1,000 residents, signifying that more than 94 percent of Maryland communities are safer than this particular urban pocket.

When comparing Laurel with other communities that contain similarly sized populations, the crime rate – which combines the overall amount of both violent and property crimes – emerges as being higher than most regions across the United States. However, a significant handful of the city’s residents, local outlets and neighboring police department wrangle with the claim that it has obstructed the public’s way of living.

“No, I would not agree with that,” said Sgt. Charles Boswell, the leading officer of Laurel’s community policing unit. “I don’t think that the crime in this area has necessarily affected, I mean, obviously it affects people and all, but it hasn’t made it so that people don’t want to be here.”

Although numerous people disagree with the outside assumption that Laurel is a dangerous place to live, their positive opinions of the area don’t negate the reality of the municipality’s increasing crime rate, especially within the Towne Centre at Laurel.

According to CrimeReports, the city experienced an average of 334 crimes per month last year and 377 crimes per month this year, excluding December 2018, which is a 12.9 percent increase in the monthly crime rate, even though the year isn’t over just yet.

Cynthia Kim, a manager of ViVi Trendsetter in the Towne Centre, confessed that one of the head security patrols informed her of the police being summoned to Ulta Beauty and Carter’s Babies and Kids almost daily because of frequent shoplifting and petty thefts.

“They try to steal everything,” said Karin Arrevondo, a manager at Carter’s. “It’s more in this season, the winter season. But I think it’s not dangerous, I think it’s a good place.”

The rising quantity of thefts and robberies have also impacted other shopping centers in the vicinity of the Towne Centre. Several stores, both monumental and modest, have partnered with the Laurel Police Department in what they describe as crime management.

Larry Stokes, an asset protection specialist at Best Buy, explained how his computer monitor by the front doors can access every camera throughout the entire building. He voiced that the police watch over the premises on the weekends since he and the other protection specialists aren’t legally permitted to apprehend any potential suspects.

“The most I’ve seen stolen is, like, earphones, cellphone cases, small items, even candy,” Stokes said. “I would say that it happens almost every other day, if not every day. It’s increased by about 25 percent since I’ve been here. As far as Laurel is concerned, crime has increased statistically, but I haven’t seen the effects of it.”

Rosales, as a resident, employee and training officer within the Laurel community, believes that he possesses the ability to view the region through different lenses. However, none of those layers involve Laurel being perilous or unlivable despite its incredibly high crime rate.

“If you think about it, we have so many people from so many different areas that all just pretty much regroup and then live in Laurel,” he said. “We have people from Baltimore, D.C., Virginia. The whole DMV is just all crammed up in Laurel. Everyone’s trying to fight against each other. So many different mindsets, so many different opinions and, you know, so many different views and all that just get clashed together.”