Retail Alone Won't Help Prince George's
In the June 1 front-page article "Prince George's Makes Sales Pitch for High-End Retail," County Executive Jack B. Johnson cited race as a factor in Prince George's struggle to attract upscale retailers. (Sixty-three percent of county residents are black.) But crime, not race, may be why retailers are reluctant to come despite the county's high median household income.
In 2003 Prince George's reported 7,263 crimes per 100,000 people -- second in the state only to Baltimore City, which reported 7,643 crimes. But while Baltimore police cleared 19 percent of their crimes, Prince George's police cleared only 7 percent of all major reported crimes, a 22.2 percent decline from 2002.
Prince George's County had more burglaries, more larceny-thefts and 256 percent more car thefts than Baltimore City -- 17,628 compared with 6,874. These staggering statistics mean high insurance costs for businesses and consumers who are afraid to shop in Prince George's.
A May 12 Metro story said that Prince George's Police Chief Melvin C. High "attributed the escalation in crime to the county's drug problem, saying many of the shootings are an outgrowth of turf wars or disputes over drug sales."
Prince George's police officers are struggling to arrest their way out of the situation, but more than 61 percent of their drug arrests are for simple possession and more than half are for marijuana offenses. While considerable police resources go to efforts to reduce drug use, officers made only 1,328 arrests for violent crimes in 2003, out of 8,009 reported violent crimes. For 135 reported murders, they made only 27 arrests in 2003.
A different approach to policing and the drug problem is as important to improving the county's business climate as tax incentives or the presentation of customer demographics.
ERIC E. STERLING
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation