Crime Watch in Silver Spring

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 1, 2008

At 5:58 p.m. last Thursday, Brian Merryman received the kind of radio dispatch that gets his attention: a fight in progress, just north of downtown Silver Spring, involving up to four teenagers surrounded by a crowd of spectators.

Merryman, a Montgomery County police officer, hit the sirens and, two minutes later, was one of three officers zipping around the area of Ellsworth Drive and Springvale Road. They all knew how such fights can escalate. In one extreme case, seven weeks before and a half-mile away, a fight between two groups ended with a 19-year-old accused of fatally stabbing an 18-year-old.

Merryman is one of about 125 officers -- along with 17 sergeants, three lieutenants and one captain -- in the Montgomery County Police Department's 3rd District, an area along the county's eastern edge, bordered by Washington to the south and Howard County to the north. The district of approximately 177,000 people includes the streets of downtown Silver Spring, apartment complexes in White Oak and spread-out areas around Burtonsville.

In 2007, the district recorded 214 aggravated assaults, 345 robberies and 3,568 cases of theft, all the highest totals for such crimes among the county's six police districts. Among the challenges:

· Keeping revitalized downtown Silver Spring safe enough that people continue flocking to its stores, theaters and restaurants.

· Reducing a deluge of car break-ins, in which thieves make off with MP3 players, Global Positioning System devices and laptop computers.

· Curbing street robberies, which sometimes involve transients from other jurisdictions or local teenage assailants motivated not so much by what they can get as the desire to be seen as a thug.

But, taken as a whole, crime is not out of control, police said. Robberies decreased from 213 per 100,000 residents in 2006 to 195 per 100,000 residents in 2007. There were three homicides in the district in 2007, the same as in 2006. No category is "truly alarming," said Lt. Eric Burnett, an deputy commander of the 3rd District.

During Merryman's shift, another call came through the radio: Two of the alleged participants in the fight, including one wearing a red baseball cap, were walking in downtown Silver Spring. Merryman and three other officers caught up with the young men near a Whole Foods store.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company