Civic association uses Internet postings to help police catch criminals in Silver Spring neighborhood
by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer
A series of crimes in a quiet Silver Spring neighborhood last week forced residents to act quickly to ensure safety. But instead of heading to the streets, they logged on to their Internet and used the neighborhood listserv to share information that was relayed to police and resulted in three arrests.
Beginning Oct. 9, posts regarding a suspicious red van parked near the corner of Woodland and Highland drives appeared on the Woodside Park Civic Association listserv, a private message board and e-mail thread on Yahoo.com.
That day, several residents on the listserv responded, cautioning neighbors to look for the van, giving advice on how to handle the situation and dispersing contact information for the officers investigating the incident. By that night, Montgomery County Police had been contacted. Residents were told to call police if they saw the van again.
Residents had previously seen the van parked in an unlit area of the neighborhood but did not know the owner. They had seen different men going in and out of the van and one of them had a camera. A post on the morning of Oct. 10 reported that a man was seen taking photographs of houses on nearby Midwood Road.
Later that morning, the van was gone but neighbors had posted a license plate number on the listserv and the number was sent to police. Later that day, residents were informed the van was owned by a registered sex offender.
That night the van reappeared, prompting another slew of posts on the listserv. After police surveillance was conducted on the van, the owner, Maurice Lamont Moore, 37, of the 11900 block of Maple Avenue in Rockville, was arrested Oct. 13 on an outstanding warrant stemming from a traffic violation. On Oct. 9, 2007, Moore had been convicted of five counts of possession of child pornography. He was also convicted earlier this year of failing to register as a sex offender.
"[The police] wouldn't have been aware of the vehicle unless the community called," said Officer Melanie Brenner, a police spokeswoman. "It was extremely helpful to police that the community was aware of what's going on in the neighborhood."
On Oct. 11 posts on the listserv announced that the van had been towed and has not reappeared in the neighborhood since.
"We have a very alert community," said Barbara Ditzler, president of the Woodside Park Civic Association. "When someone sees something suspicious … they post what they see on the listserv and that puts the antennas up for everyone else."
An arrest was made Oct. 13 in the 1300 block of Woodside Parkway after residents reported a male walking down the street shooting a pellet gun at vehicles and other targets. Woodside Park resident and former civic association president Marilyn Seitz said her husband was working at their house that afternoon when he heard a popping noise. She said he went outside and saw the male shooting at street signs.
The arrest was made shortly after, Brenner said. Reports of the arrest were posted on the listserv the following day, lauding the police response.
"It was a soap opera on the Internet," Seitz said. "But [the listserv] serves to alert people."
A post on the listserv 7 a.m. Oct. 14 also praised police for responding to a man who had been breaking into cars along Burton Street and Woodland Drive. An arrest was made on the 1200 block of Burton Street early that morning and a male was charged with fourth-degree theft, theft under $500 and resisting arrest after he fled from police and hid under the deck of a home on Burton Street, Brenner said.
The listserv post also included information on how to assist police when they arrive on a scene and credited toys in the backyard of the residences for tripping up the suspect.
In response to the suspicious van, Woodside Park resident Roy Lykes posted about an incident last year in which residents learned of a burglary through the listserv, located a license plate number using binoculars and helped police make an arrest in the case.
"We do have this wonderful listserv and in a matter of minutes it was popping," Lykes said in a phone interview. "… I keep my eyes peeled for something that doesn't look right and if I see something, I mention it."
The listserv on Yahoo! dates back to 2000 with the first posts regarding robberies. Since then, there have been nearly 20,000 posts, and there are currently more than 700 people registered.
But by the middle of last week, it was back to business as usual with requests for kitchen renovation advice and how to improve Internet speed, which can helpful too, Ditzler said.
"People are connected and by being connected you can be heard," Ditzler said.