Taking Back Prince George's

A stunning three-year drop in crime

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

CRIMINALS SEEMED to have hijacked Prince George's County three years ago. There were two carjackings a day and more than three murders a week. Rapes and burglaries were out of hand. The police chief at the time didn't help by concluding that the problem was lazy officers. One fed-up resident, no doubt speaking for many, wrote in early 2006 in The Post, "When my neighbors and I hear those numbers, we wonder if this really is where we want to live, where we want to bring up our children." Since then, the county has achieved a remarkable turnaround. At a time when crime is rising in some neighboring jurisdictions, the violence continues to wane in Prince George's. The county is safer than it's been in years as a result of an injection of resources from the county government and improved communication between officers and residents.

The drop in crime has occurred across the board: Assaults, robberies, property crimes and homicides are all down by more than 20 percent since 2005. Carjackings, which had reached epidemic levels, have plummeted an astonishing 60 percent. Only burglary has inched upward.

There's no single reason for the drop, but increased funding, a priority of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), has been instrumental. The police department's budget has grown by about 77 percent, to $256.6 million, since fiscal 2003, according to the county Office of Management and Budget. Police staffing has increased by about 450 positions, to 2,132. A larger, better-funded force has arrested 40 percent more suspects since 2005.

Other factors that have contributed: Justice Department scrutiny has improved the training of new officers; the county government has limited liquor store hours and shut down illegal nightclubs; and police officials have worked with property owners in high-crime areas to make apartments and businesses more secure. Acting Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton, who took over the force last summer, gets crime updates every 15 minutes and seems to have brought needed energy to the department.

Even Chief Hylton acknowledges, however, that the perception of the department continues to lag reality. As one wary resident told The Post's Aaron C. Davis, "It's too soon for me to feel any safer." Any amount of crime is too much, and potential public safety cuts, brought by a county budget deficit, may threaten some of the gains. Still, residents should take pride and comfort in the reduction in crime.

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