Saturday, July 26, 2008

Public Safety in Silver Spring: A Message from the MCPD 3d District Commander


Recently I have received numerous correspondences relating to the condition of the Silver Spring Central Business District (CBD) and specifically the area on and near Ellsworth Dr. I would like to take an opportunity to discuss these concerns, review some statistics, and explain the actions that the police department has taken and will take in the future. Lt. Eric Burnett is one of the Deputy Commanders at the Third District and has responsibility for the CBD and surrounding area. Lt. Burnett and I meet and discuss issues related to the CBD on a daily basis.

The substance of the complaints is the “rowdy” behavior, large crowds, and associated criminal activity. Much of the rowdy behavior described involves the indiscriminate use of profanity which certainly takes away from the family atmosphere that everyone would like to see exist. While I am certainly opposed to the use of profanity, it is rarely illegal. We can instruct individuals not to use such language, but in general, we cannot take any enforcement action. I have instructed my officers that when they witness this behavior to engage the individuals and instruct them that their behavior is not appropriate. The same holds true for the large crowds that will often gather; that in and of itself is not a crime. Also, most of the area of Ellsworth Drive is private property owned by the Peterson Group. Lt. Burnett communicates and meets with the Peterson Group on a regular basis to discuss issues that arise.

Here is a breakdown of the crime statistics year to date when compared the same time frame in 2007.
...................................... 2007...........2008
Robberies...................... ... 35............. 44
Aggravated Assaults...........12........... 9
Residential Burglaries............35........... 28
Commercial Burglaries........45........... 26
Vehicle related theft.......108........... 156
Auto theft...................... 106........... 45
Drug arrests................. 102........... 117

In reviewing these numbers you can see that there are some increases and decreases as well. While I am not suggesting that we should tolerate any level of crime, overall there has not been a drastic increase. Of these trends, the most disturbing trend that we have seen in the increase in robberies. This is a crime where a victim is accosted and their property is removed by force or threat of force. The other significant increase is the vehicle related thefts. This is part of a station, county and regional trend. There have been significant decreases in residential burglaries, commercial burglaries, and auto thefts.

I know there is a high level of concern that police patrols in the area have decreased. Let me assure you that they have not. When the budget cuts were announced we did have to cancel the “Ellsworth detail”. This detail was designed to put two extra officers in the Ellsworth area on Friday and Saturday nights. When the detail was cancelled we developed a plan to use officers from other sectors to provide extra patrol and use officers that were assigned to other duties at that time. In addition, we have been able to utilize the Police Community Action Team. This is a group of approximately six to eight officers who will go into an area and make an impact. These officers have been given specific instruction to be visible in the Ellsworth area and while they are not exclusively assigned there, they have made an impact. Last week members of this team made an arrest of two suspects in a stolen car who were armed with a handgun. In addition, the Third District Special Assignment Team has dedicated the majority of their time to the CBD. This team is a group of officers that patrol in undercover cars and plain clothes. You will not notice them as police officers, but they are out there. This team specifically looks for street crimes and robbery is on the top of their list. On Monday of this week the team arrested six subjects for robbery. The subjects were observed by the team in the CBD. Since the arrests, the suspects have admitted to numerous other robberies in the CBD and it is believed that they were a significant part of the robbery increase. We will continue to have both teams focus in the CBD, and in addition we will be restarting the Ellsworth overtime detail next week.

The other major increase in crimes is vehicle related thefts. As I stated earlier, this increase has been seen throughout the district and is prevalent both county and region wide. District wide we have experienced a 36% increase year to date compared to 2007. In the CBD, there are literally thousands of cars parked at any given time. Suspects have a wide variety to choose from and for the most part they will target unlocked cars and where valuables are left in plain view. This is why we strongly encourage everyone to make it difficult on these criminals by securing valuables and locking cars. I am by no means indicating that these criminals are not responsible for their own actions; I am simply stating that when there is an abundance of easy targets-criminal activity will remain active. Here again, we have made significant arrests. The midnight shifts will routinely patrol target rich areas to capture these offenders. In addition, we really need your help to report all crimes and suspicious activities. I have attached an informational brochure which I would like you to review and circulate.

In closing I would like to convey to you that I am committed to making the entire Third District as safe as possible. While we will never be rid of crime, I will also never be willing to accept any level of criminal activity. I am most definitely aware of the efforts that have been made in the CBD and completely support all that has been done to revitalize the area. I know what the condition of the CBD has been in the past and will not allow all the efforts that have been put forth to go to waste. I have to constantly juggle my resources throughout the district and priorities where to devote personnel. I can tell you that the CBD has the highest concentration patrol officers in the district and probably in the county. Lieutenant Eric Burnett shares my same concerns as well. Recently, he has been devoting a tremendous amount of effort into investigating a commercial establishment that has been problematic. Again, his efforts are being done to keep you safe and improve the image of the CBD.

It is my pleasure to serve as the district commander for Silver Spring and I take this responsibility very seriously. I know we share the same concerns and have to continue to work together. Please contact myself or Lt. Burnett at any time on this or any related matter. We can both be reached at 301-565-7740.

Thank you for your commitment to the community.

Captain Donald Johnson
Commander, 3rd District
Montgomery County Police

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