Bowie voters last week reelected a mayor, kicked out two City Council members and overwhelmingly endorsed the creation of a police force.
The Prince George's County Police Department has been stretched thin by a near-record level of crime.
A few miles down the road, College Park voters approved changes to their city in their own referendum, calling on the City Council to consider options for increasing citywide policing. Voters in that city also returned the mayor and the incumbent council members to office.
In Greenbelt, the third county municipality to hold elections last week, voters agreed to amend their charter to allow the city to engage in collective bargaining with its police department. Voters also reelected five council members: Judith F. Davis, a retired teacher; Konrad E. Herling, a communications analyst; Leta M. Mach, a writer; Edward V.J. Putens, a Food and Drug Administration employee; and Rodney M. Roberts, a mechanic and welder.
But Bowie's voters sent the clearest message -- about their police protection and elected leaders.
"We have a lot of respect for the men and women of District 2 [the county police substation in Bowie], but the problem has been with the number of resources," said Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson, who won reelection. "Our concern has never been the quality of service but the quantity of services."
Nearly three-fourths of those who cast ballots in Bowie voted to create a city force.
Robinson ran unopposed for mayor. But in District 3, incumbent Gail Booker Jones, a lawyer who had served on the council since 2002, was upset by Todd M. Turner, a newcomer and legislative aide for County Council member Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Bowie).
Newcomer Kevin W. Conroy, the dietary manager for the state correctional services, and incumbent Dennis Brady, an electrical engineer, won at-large seats on the council, beating out William A. Aleshire, a retired D.C. police officer who had served on the council since 1992. Elsewhere in Bowie, Kurt Kroemer, Jack D. Jenkins and D. Michael Lyles won City Council seats.
But it was the police question that drew votes in the city. Seventy-seven percent, or 6,366 Bowie residents, voted in favor establishing a police department, compared with 23 percent, or 1,926 residents, who voted against it. Opponents of the question had argued that although the city needs more police, there were other ways to increase safety. Bowie currently pays the county police department about $600,000 a year for six officers who are responsible for patrolling the city.
Under the proposal approved by voters, Bowie will establish a 57-member force, costing an estimated $7.5 million a year. Homeowners will pay about $46 per $100,000 of assessed value to fund the effort.
In College Park, the police ballot question passed by a much smaller margin: 674 to 649 votes, or 51 percent to 49 percent. Additionally, voters returned John M. Krouse and David L. Milligan to the City Council. Incumbents Robert T. Caitlin, John E. Perry, Eric C. Olson, Andrew M. Fellows, Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk and Karen E. Hampton also won reelection.
Public safety was on the minds of voters in all three county cities. But Krouse cautioned the public against comparing College Park with Bowie when it comes to policing.
"In Bowie, it is fairly simple: have a department or not," said Krouse. "It is a little more complicated in College Park, where you have the University of Maryland, two Metro stations and several police agencies."
Krouse said consideration of an increased police presence in College Park, a city of 25,350, could take a year or more. Meanwhile, Robinson said he is ready to establish a police force for Bowie and its 54,884 residents. "This is a logical step in the growth of our city. We have a fairly safe community and we want to keep it that way."