Six Prince George’s neighborhoods targeted for crime reductions, economic and other gains

April 18, 2012

Teams of government officials will be assigned indefinitely to monitor six troubled Prince George’s County neighborhoods under a plan that aims to reduce crime, improve student test scores and generally raise the quality of life in areas deemed most in need of help.

Langley Park, Kentland-Palmer Park, Hillcrest Heights-Marlow Heights, Glassmanor, East Riverdale-Bladensburg and Suitland-Coral Hills will receive extra attention under the so-called Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, which County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) unveiled Wednesday in a gymnasium next to Glassmanor Elementary School on Marcy Avenue.

Standing in front of a class of third-graders and speaking to a room filled with police commanders, firefighters and other county officials, Baker pitched the plan as his best effort to get everyone in government to cooperate and — simply put — do a better job.

“It’s about bringing your government together to tackle some of the very serious problems we have,” Baker said.

The move was inspired by last year’s Summer Crime Initiative, a police-directed endeavor that put extra resources in five neighborhoods acutely affected by violent crime. The hallmark of that effort was face-to-face meetings by police with the neighborhoods’ most violent repeat criminals. Officials have said those meetings played a major role in the substantial crime drops each neighborhood saw over the summer.

But the Summer Crime Initiative also put police and other government officials in weekly meetings so that they could tackle problems — such as housing code violations and unemployment — that fell beyond the scope of law enforcement. The Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative aims to expand that cooperation and force other government agencies to focus on troubled neighborhoods before police ask for their help, officials said.

Crime statistics were still used as a base for identifying the neighborhoods most in need of attention, but officials also overlaid health, education, economic and other quality-of-life indicators on a map, said Bradford L. Seamon, Baker’s chief administrative officer. They then created teams — each led by a county deputy chief administrative officer — to monitor a range of indicators, including income levels, crime rates and third- and fifth-grade math and reading scores in the neighborhoods.

“Last summer, it was like, ‘We’re helping the police out,’ ” Seamon said. “We said, basically, we think we can take this thing and put it on steroids.”

Still, the initiative is limited in many ways. Baker said there is no extra money budgeted for the initiative, and officials will not be diverting resources away from other parts of the county.

“Where we have extra, anything extra is going to these six areas,” said Baker, acknowledging that, in the current fiscal climate, the extras were “not much.”

“It’s a coordination of our effort,” Baker said. “We’re asking everybody to change the way they’ve been doing their jobs.”

Baker and Seamon would not provide specific numeric goals, but said they hoped the neighborhoods would show progress on all of the indicators that officials were monitoring. They said they hoped the initiative would run the length of Baker’s tenure in office, although they would evaluate statistics regularly to determine whether changes should be made.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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