Unacceptable: A murder a day in Prince George's County

Wednesday, January 12, 2011; 8:00 PM

THIRTEEN PEOPLE have been slain in as many days this year in Prince George's County, a slow-motion massacre taking place on the eastern porch of the nation's capital. At the current pace, the county would more than triple the 98 killings that occurred there last year.

Despite that, the deputy police chief, Kevin Davis, told residents on Tuesday they had nothing to fear, for it was merely "the lifestyle of these victims [that] has contributed to where they are in life."

We suppose that Deputy Chief Davis was attempting, in a ham-fisted way, to assure Prince Georgians that they are not at heightened risk. Police stress that the slayings, most of which which appear to be related either to drugs or gang activity, are not random. Still, his remark struck the wrong note, and it seemed to project a sense of official indifference, complacency or resignation.

The interim police chief, Mark Magaw, and the newly installed county executive, Rushern L. Baker III, have issued statements of concern. Mr. Magaw's statement was occasioned by the fact that arrests have been made in three of this year's killings. Mr. Baker, who cut short his attendance at a conference on the Eastern Shore last week and returned to the county because of the violence, told us: "There is a sense of urgency. We're not just sitting back."

To his credit, Mr. Magaw has taken some concrete steps. The police have transferred 18 officers from general patrol duties to drug and gang units, and Mr. Baker asked the sheriff's department, which has a huge backlog of warrants to be served, to accelerate and focus its deployments in areas of the county where the killings have occurred. In addition, the county has asked for federal help from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

For Mr. Baker's part, he attended a church service Sunday in the Suitland-Hillcrest Heights area of the county, near where about half the slayings have taken place. The idea, as he explained it, was to help enlist faith leaders and their congregations in deterring further violence.

The county is conducting a nationwide search for a new police chief, a process that could take several more months. A new administration under Mr. Baker's direction is just taking shape in Upper Marlboro. With so much in flux, it is vital in the coming weeks that county leaders formulate aggressive, forward-leaning policies while conveying the message that a murder a day is intolerable and unacceptable.

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