The Prince George's County Police Department, hoping to improve its relations with area residents, has opened a storefront office in Suitland and plans to open another in Palmer Park.
"We want to get the police into the community so that they are more visible.
In the past, problems have developed. We want (the department) to establish a better rapport with the population," said County Council Chariman Parris N. Glendening.
Cpl. Ronald L. Smith, coordinator of the department's Crime Solvers Unit and head of the Suitland office, said that the storefront offices also will help to educate the public about home security.
"Last year alone there were 9,000 residential and commercial burglaries in the county," Smith said, adding that the majority of the burglaries occurred because residents failed to lock their doors. "Most of the burglaries were committed by teenagers under the age of 17."
The Suitland office is located at 5001 Silver Hill Rd. in the Suitland Professional Building. The firm of Walker and Dunlop, Inc., which manages the building, provides the three-room office rent free.
Although Smith's office is on the ground floor of the building, it faces an open field and cannot be seen by passing drivers or pedestrians.Smith said he hoped the problem of lack of visibilty would be solved by getting permission to post a sign on Silver Hill Road.
Smith also predicted the department's presence in the Suitland Professional Building would deter vandalism.
Most visitors to the Suitland facility so far have been the patients of physicians who have offices in the same building, said Smith. Office staff includes Smith, another police officer, a civilian aide and a volunteer.
Smith said the Suitland office has been experimenting with its hours of operation. Presently it is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. In coming weeks, however, the office also may open Saturdays.
The plan to put a storefront office in the Palmer Park Shopping Center, presently being renovated for county offices and businesses, was initiated in 1978, when the shopping center was purchased by the county for $600,000.
The Palmer Park office is expected to open about Aug. 15, one month earlier than planned, Smith said. "The Palmer Park Civic Association wanted us in there as soon as possible," said Smith who added that the shopping center still is bothered by the vandalism and drug traffic that drove out many tenants prior to its purchase by the county.
Comparing Suitland to the Palmer Park office, Maj. Michael J. Flaherty, Bureau of Control commander, said the Palmer Park office "is in the shopping center, and looks more like a storefront. People will be more inclined to stop in."
Smith said the Palmer Park office will have a staff similar in size to the Suitland office.
At least one group opposes the efforts of the department to open the storefront offices, however.
Laney Hester, president of the Prince George's County Fraternal Order of Police says, "There really isn't enough manpower to operate the storefront offices. I'm comcerned with the safety of the officers and feel that it would be better to have them on patrol rather than in an office that might be understaffed."
Smith disagreed and said that the storefronts would not materially lessen number of police on patrol. The offices, he said, will be adequately staffed.
The Prince George's Police Department has 823 officers, down from last year's total of 834. Budget cuts have meant that officers leaving have not been replaced.