Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Report outlines ideas for safer community - Gazette

Establishing teen center, community-police councils among recommendations

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Two months after the first Safe Silver Spring Summit was held to address crime in the community, the event's organizers have released a summary of suggested safety measures, including creating a teen center downtown and establishing community relations councils with police.

The event, held May 16 at Montgomery College, drew 120 people, including youth and adult residents, county officials and community organizers, to five workshops to discuss issues such as gangs, self-policing and truancy.

The event's steering committee then prepared a report based on the discussions to be distributed to County Executive Isiah Leggett, the Montgomery County Council and Montgomery County Public Schools, among other local agencies and organizations.

The suggested safety measures ranging from abstract concepts like "provide neighborhoods with more information about arrests and convictions" to concrete steps such as "form a non-profit organization to develop solutions to Silver Spring crime and apply for grants."

"Some of them are fairly easy to implement," said Tony Hausner of Prezco, an umbrella group of civic associations in Silver Spring that planned the event. "Community relations councils with the police department is something that should be very straightforward.

"Empowering teenagers to play more of a leadership role is certainly more challenging," he added.

Residents also supported a truancy center for Silver Spring.

County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, who sponsored the summit, has commissioned the county Office of Legislative Oversight to conduct a full report of truancy in the county, with potential legislation to follow.

"It's astounding how many kids are chronically truant," Ervin (D-Dist. 5), of Silver Spring, said. "Ten percent [of students in the county], more than 9,000 kids, are truant on any given day."

Some of the solutions mirror programs in other jurisdictions. The Southeastern District of the Baltimore Police Department has established a council where the community holds meetings and advises police on issues in the city. Howard County offers a Choose Civility program to promote better public behavior, which the report suggests as an effort to ease any tensions in downtown Silver Spring.

Other solutions include an all-youth subcommittee of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board and safety assessments conducted by police in apartment complexes with a large percentage of renters.

Many residents are also in favor of a dedicated teen center that will serve as a hangout in absence of the artificial turf at Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street that closed last summer.

Recommended locations include the current site of the Silver Spring Library or the Old Blair Auditorium at Silver Spring International Middle School, which could be built by youth, the report says.

Leggett noted the teen center, community council and steps toward addressing truancy as recommendations that could be implemented, but that the solutions will have to compete against projects countywide in a tough budget year, said his spokesman, Patrick Lacefield.

"There are obvious limits to what we are able to do given the continuing economic downturn," Lacefield said. "… But as we begin to put together a budget for next year, these sorts of recommendations are helpful."

The committee is scheduled to meet again Sept. 14 to discuss future steps.

For a copy of the Safe Silver Spring Executive Summary or for more information about Safe Silver Spring, e-mail or call Tony Hausner at 301-641-0497.

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