Despite public perception that Prince George’s County’s crime rate is high, it’s actually dropping dramatically, particularly violent crime.
Police say crime in Prince George’s County is at its lowest in 35 years and continues to drop. So far in 2011, reports show violent crime is down 13 percent compared to this time last year.
The county’s Assistant Police Chief Kevin Davis called the decrease a “significant stride” for a county that started out the year with a reported 11 homicides in 11 days.
In 2005, the county investigated 164 murders and 784 automobile thefts, two of the most common types of crimes in Prince George’s, and in 2011, those numbers decreased to 90 murders and 119 auto thefts, police report.
Property crime has also decreased, by 10 percent from the first 10 months in 2010 to the same time in 2011.
“I think people would be surprised to hear crime rates are down,” Greenbelt Councilman Rodney Roberts said. “They don’t really relate that to reality because they watch the news and see things like people getting shot or murdered.”
Davis attributed much of the decrease to the county’s stronger relationships with local police departments, federal government agencies (such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency) and individual communities.
“Perception is always a matter that is keenly on our minds,” Davis said, adding, “We engage in community outreach events and do more now than we ever have because we’ve realized the importance of building trust with the communities.
The department has a strategy to target potential re-offenders. Of the 55,000 Maryland offenders on parole or probation, the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention has identified 1,200 who are the most likely to commit more violent crime.
“If a homicide or violent crime occurs in, say, College Park, we immediately identify all violent offenders on that list who live in a three-mile radius of where the crime occurred,” Davis said. “We go speak to them, either to see if they were involved or to see if they can help us identify the people who were.”
Despite the increased police attention, people don’t always realize it.
North College Park Citizens Association President Mark Shroder says he feels safe but notes that there are probably people who do not.
It’s difficult to solve a perception problem when crime occurs regularly near Route 1 motels and bars, Shroder said. Some crime “happens unpredictably, and it’s not always obvious what you’re going to do about it.”
But Davis said, “There’s no one solution, no magic pill that will make people feel safe.” He added, “If there was one, it would be building good relationships between us, citizen groups, the media, advisory councils and local police to make communities aware of our efforts and success on their behalf.”
One of these efforts was a crime initiative that Prince George’s police implemented between May and September in five communities that it believed were most likely to see violent crime based on their high rates of homicides, non-fatal shootings, auto thefts and citizen robberies.
Those five areas, Langley Park, Riverdale, Suitland, Hillcrest Heights and Glassmanor, were the department’s focus, and police intensified their presence there. Police also identified residents who were on parole or probation and talked to them about why law enforcement was focusing on their communities.
In addition, they offered so-called wrap-around services, such as access to addiction specialists and career counselors.
Only two homicides occurred in those focus areas between May and September, and there was a 20-percent drop in violent crime during those four months compared to the same months in 2010. Crime rates were also measured in neighboring communities, and Davis said there was no evidence that crime had been displaced to those areas.
“The message was that we will be in their community because crime is too high and we know they’re more prone to commit a violent crime again,” Davis said. “But, it was also to let them know that we are here to help, and we’d rather help them and have them help us.”
Editor's Note: Mehreen Rashid, Zack Cohen and Aliya Faust contributed to this article. This post is a part of a larger series about crime in Prince George's County. Click here to see more stories on the Crime Conundrum.