The fatal stabbing last weekend of Brandon J. Malstrom, a sophomore at the University of Maryland, shocked the community and raised questions about security in the neighborhoods near campus. College Park Mayor Stephen A. Brayman answered questions from staff writer Avis Thomas-Lester.
QAlthough Brandon was a university student, the stabbing happened off campus in the Old Town section, outside a house party thrown by students. How much crime in this area is related to student activities?
AI would hate to have any neighborhood or lifestyle described as "contributing" to being victimized.
The basic facts are that this neighborhood consists heavily of student housing, including the Greek community. The rental industry has largely overrun the neighborhoods around campus. The majority of the homes in these communities are rented by students, not lived in by families. The area's close proximity to the campus, some communities' easy access to the Metro and the open student social scene have contributed to party crashing by some who are not associated with the university, and that has led to some crime problems.
Prince George's County police patrol College Park and University of Maryland police are responsible for the campus. Is the city considering establishing its own police force?
Unfortunately, all the focus on a city police force really distracts from looking at what needs to be done to solve this problem. Creation of a police force would be a lengthy and complex process.
Consider just the financial and political implications: Approximately 45 percent of the city's property tax base is off the tax rolls because it is held by the university and state. Just this year, we lost almost 10 percent of the total property tax revenue because of property acquisitions by the university. With the city's tax base continuing to be eroded by the university, the city cannot be expected to bear the burdens of solving this problem alone.
If the city were allowed to apply its tax rate to the full-assessed value of all state property in the city, I think a police force would be an option. But until then, it is irresponsible to unilaterally task the city with the massive unfunded mandate to create a police force to solve a university-driven issue.
What do you think would resolve security concerns?
The city, university and county government should agree that the two police departments that have jurisdiction in these majority-student areas increase patrols. For years, the city has asked these two agencies to take on a more proactive role in these neighborhoods. I have great faith that the new county executive, Jack Johnson, will bring a new and productive perspective to this matter.
Parents of students could help by asking the state of Maryland to provide additional funds to allow these police departments to commit to increasing police presence.
What do you plan to do to improve town-gown communications on the security issue?
The city, the university and Prince George's County will be hosting public forums this week to allow people to give feedback on how we can all work together to help make our communities safer. While College Park is a relatively safe place, as indicated in the fact that some neighboring jurisdictions have very large police departments but twice the city's crime rate, I am committed to finding ways of making our city even safer.
Some ideas I have already heard about are extending the city's Neighborhood Watch Program to include a student chapter, continuing the city's classes on self-defense and maybe even developing student patrols to help get more eyes out on the streets looking out for one another.