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Prince George’s police, others fix up houses for ‘Christmas in April’

Officers seek more community engagement while cleaning out junk, fixing steps and drains for residents

Prince George's County Police Chief Malik Aziz and Cpl. Danielle Ross, far right, with a group of teen Explorers who helped officers refurbish a home in Oxon Hill on Saturday. (Kwesi Dadzie/Prince George's County Police Department)
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The stuff had been piling up in Mary Bell’s backyard for years. People just kept leaving stuff. Then starting Wednesday, the Prince George’s County police came to clear it away.

And by Saturday morning, the stuff was gone. The backyard was spotless. The security lights were changed. The wheelchair ramp firmed up. The driveway and front walk power-washed.

“The yard looks like it’s a brand new place,” Bell said as she looked out at her rejuvenated property in Oxon Hill. “I’m going to go back there and use my reclining wheelchair and relax.”

Before noon, the job was done, one of eight home improvement projects the Prince George’s police — aided by a set of teen Explorers — finished up Saturday as part of their 34th annual “Christmas in April” initiative. Every spring, the police get a list of homes which could use some help, and officers from all eight patrol divisions typically spend several days removing junk, cleaning and washing and blowing out yards and cluttered homes and, importantly, leaving a trail of good will behind.

“The PD?” Bell said. “They’re prompt and they’re good guys.”

In an age where police are beset by protests and violent videos, officers often enjoy the opportunity to show that they are truly involved in their communities, that they aren’t just reactive when crime erupts. That they care. “Christmas in April” is one way Prince George’s has reinforced that concept for decades.

“I feel these engagement programs work and make us better,” Prince George’s Chief Malik Aziz said while standing in the newly cleaned front yard. “It’s really about the direction of our county executive [Angela Alsobrooks] to continue to build a better police and community relationship, having officers and young Explorer groups and residents engage in these types of partnerships.”

The officers usually do a lot of interior cleaning, sometimes helping with residents who have hoarding problems, Cpl. Danielle Ross said. At one house last year, “we had to reorganize lot of stuff,” clean out animal poop and help alleviate a hoarding problem, Ross said. Each of the eight projects the police do annually often start on Wednesdays, giving crews three or four days to refurbish a property.

“After we do the work, we’ll follow up,” Ross said, “checking on the homeowner a year later, and we build up the rapport.”

In Oxon Hill, Bell “had a wish list, and we pretty much did everything on it,” Capt. Dorian Johnson said. Gutters were checked and cleaned. Leaves and lawn debris were blown and scooped up. Giant bags of assorted, well, stuff was taken to the curb and then hauled away Saturday.

Meanwhile, in Forestville, Prince George’s officers from Division 8 dug a drain to divert water from Michael Caesar’s house, while members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ Local 197 repaired some concrete steps and then built a landing in the front of the house, Caesar’s niece, Barbara Eubanks, said. The officers also planted shrubs, fixed all of the drains, and hauled away more bags of stuff which had built up in Caesar’s house, said his niece, who is also his caretaker.

She said police came out a couple of times to inspect the property and make preparations for the work, which they completed in one day.

“Christmas in April is just wonderful,” Eubanks said. “My uncle was just thrilled, the whole thing just made his day.” She said the repaired steps and landing would enable him to check his mail again, which had been difficult before. “They cleaned up the yard, they got rid of a bunch of brush, they got rid of a lot of junk from inside. Me and four others were like ‘We’re doing this at our house.’”