The U.S. Marshals Service yesterday agreed to deputize 16 police officers from the District and Prince George's County so they can cross the city-county border to make arrests, a revival of a crime-fighting strategy first employed in the early 1990s.
"The criminals have got to realize they cannot cross that little bridge they call the escape bridge," said Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), referring to Southern and Eastern avenues, which separate the District and Prince George's. If they try to escape across the border, Johnson said, "they will be followed and arrested."
Yesterday in Oxon Hill, on a street corner near the border, Johnson signed an agreement calling for the joint enforcement effort, as did D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D); the U.S. marshal for the District, George B. Walsh; and Police Chiefs Charles H. Ramsey of the District and Melvin C. High of Prince George's.
High said that the 16 officers -- eight from each police force -- will begin patrolling together within a few weeks. The officers will sometimes patrol alone and sometimes in two-officer teams, one officer from each jurisdiction.
A program allowing District and Prince George's officers to patrol together and freely cross the border, with officers making arrests in their respective jurisdictions, was tried in 1992. Community leaders praised the initiative, but it ended after two years because of a lack of personnel.
In 1999, Chief John S. Farrell of Prince George's revived the strategy, with a twist: Officers from both sides were deputized as federal marshals, allowing them to cross the border and make arrests as federal officers.
The program resulted in more than 1,000 arrests in two years and the seizure of more than $300,000 in drugs and assets, police said. But it ended when the Marshals Service said it did have enough supervisors to monitor the program.
"Those lines just as easily could have been a brick wall we have faced over the years," Johnson said yesterday.
The boundary streets have long been the sites of a frustrating game of jurisdictional ping-pong for authorities. When D.C. officers patrol their side of the line, drug dealers and prostitutes often cross over to Maryland. When Prince George's officers arrive, the offenders jump back to the District. Unless officers see a felony in progress, they are generally barred from crossing the line.
The agreement signed yesterday is part of a broader Connected Communities Initiative that includes partnerships in health care, transportation and public works.
Officials from both sides said that close to $1.2 million was recently spent on road repairs on or near Southern and Eastern avenues. An additional $500,000 has been earmarked for more projects this fiscal year to clean the avenues, they said.
Also, a regional health care task force will meet within weeks to decide on ways the two jurisdictions can improve health care for residents who go to any of the four hospitals that serve the border communities.
"On the community front and on the public safety front, [this initiative] addresses the really nitty-gritty qualities of life," Williams said.