Keith Jones went to the Kettering-Largo Town Hall meeting recently seeking the answer to one question: Why, as a resident of Woodmore South -- one of Prince George's County's most affluent communities -- did he have to join with neighbors to pay for security when their taxes should assure them of police protection?
At the same meeting, Maurice Jackson, a two-year resident of the county, asked why the large local churches weren't more involved in fighting the county's growing crime problem. Emerson Briggs, director of the Prince George's County Civic Federation, wanted to know what residents can do to help police fight crime.
"There is a lot of anger and frustration among people in our membership," Briggs told the audience packed inside the sanctuary at Kettering Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro last week. "Some have lost faith in the ability of the county government to protect its citizens."
The forum, which drew more than 250 people, was called by county State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey and County Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) to give residents a chance to ask questions and voice concerns. Police Chief Melvin C. High was the third member of the panel.
"The forum really gave us an opportunity to listen to residents, to address their concerns and to plan cooperatively with the police and County Council chairman's office to try to address those issues," said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for Ivey's office.
Korionoff said the forum is part of an effort by the county's leadership to speak directly with residents and enlist their help in fighting crime. A similar forum is being planned for November in Fort Washington.
The meeting was timely.
According to a recent police report obtained by The Washington Post, the county has had 140 homicides this year, compared with 148 in all of 2004. There also has been an increase in armed vehicle thefts and rapes, officials said.
Meanwhile, the police department is understaffed by several hundred officers, making it more difficult for them to solve cases and deter crime, officials said.
For example, of the 140 homicide cases reported this year, 48, or 34 percent, have been closed, the report shows.
The panelists pointed to guns and drugs as the biggest problems they face. The report shows that guns were used in 115 of the year's homicides, or 82 percent. Stabbings accounted for 12 homicides, less than 10 percent, and blunt force trauma killed six people.
High told the audience that police officials are putting into place "support institutions designed to build communities . . . and families." He said that he asked two years ago for federal assistance in combating the county's growing gang problem and that the anti-gang efforts have been successful.
High added that officers have taken 1,100 guns off the streets this year and have seized $22 million worth of drugs. The department is likely to make 12,000 arrests this year, High said.
The panelists said they are asking churches and other community-based organizations to be vigilant. They admit that the county lacks adequate police protection and asked residents to continue to form Neighborhood Watch groups and report suspicious activity.
Dean said county officials may consider a measure to redistribute public housing units into more affluent areas. Meanwhile, he urged parents and neighbors to take more responsibility for steering young people away from crime.
He added that residents need to begin to think of Prince George's as an "urban center," not the suburban community it was years ago.
"Citizens need to be . . . vigilant," he said.