Prince George’s County has tallied 59 homicides as of Dec. 3, significantly fewer than the same time last year and police attribute the reduction to improved technology, cooperation between law enforcement agencies and targeted enforcement of problem areas.
After reaching a recent high of 169 homicides in 2005, the county has seen homicides dropping since then. There were 122 homicides in 2008 and 90 last year, statistics show.
The reduction in homicides in Prince George’s represents a 36.3% decrease from 2011, putting the county on par with several other major jurisdictions, like New York City, which have also seen significant decreases in killings in recent years.
Police said they are concentrating more personnel and resources in six high-crime areas as part of their “Transforming Neighborhoods Initiatives.” The six areas are East Riverdale/Bladensburg, Glassmanor, Hillcrest Heights/Marlow Heights, Kentland/Palmer Park, Langley Park and Suitland/Coral Hills. The program pulls together different agencies, including schools and social services to try to improve neighborhoods.
“We’re taking a holistic approach, the entire government is participating in keeping the neighborhood safe,” said police spokeswoman Julie Parker. “We’re dealing with the little things like streetlights and overgrown grass on a cross-governmental platform.”
The department has also invested in the technical aspects of crime scene investigation by creating a new bureau for forensic science and intelligence. In a previous interview, Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks attributed the groundwork for the reduction to the Summer Crime Initiative, the basis for Transforming Neighborhoods, which started in April.
Police officials said they increased the number of patrol officers and detectives on nights and weekends during certain months, changed the way non-fatal shooting investigations are conducted and bumped up the resources on gathering and analyzing forensic evidence.
Assistant Police Chief Kevin Davis said additional focus was placed on non-fatal shootings, which sometimes become the basis for homicides later.
Among the 27 municipalities in the county, many with their own police departments, officers are employing similar all-inclusive strategies and advanced technology to reduce homicides and crime.
“The criminals have nowhere to go because we’re choking them out,” said Capitol Heights Acting Police Chief Anthony Ayers. “We have much more collaboration and information [sharing] now than we did when I started in the force. And the technology is so advanced. We’re tracking our violent offenders closer than ever before.”
In the last couple of years, authorities have also targeted repeat offenders. In 2011, Prince George’s police started a Violent Crime Recidivist Unit.
In Capitol Heights, officers are tracking the progression of crimes to stop offenders before a murder or other violent crime occurs.
“We track people who perform violent crimes because they tend to take it to the next level,” Ayers said. “They get bolder and bolder so you have to track them and put them away or give them strict probation guidelines. That’s how your violent crimes go down.”
In Suitland, one of the six focus areas for Prince George’s police, some residents applaud the drop in murders, but feel other crime is surging.
“It’s great if the homicides are down,” said Wright Jolly, vice president of the Wood Creek Homeowners Association. “I don’t think the crime is down. In Suitland, it’s out of control.”
Wood Creek is an enclave of townhouses off Suitland Road, near the intersection of Suitland Road and Silver Hill Road. According to Jolly, most of the crime perpetrators are teenagers.
“During the day they break into our houses, when we go to sleep at night they steal our cars, our rims, our radios. It’s unbelievable the amount of crime for the last two years,” Jolly said.
Jolly said Wood Creek has also had issues with vandalism, sexual assaults, rape, robberies and teens carrying dangerous weapons. He feels the police are not making arrests or taking action because “they are trying to keep the statistics down.”
Some residents said while the killings are down, they still feel the effects of violence.
“One of my young men lost his father at a young age. This is the world they grew up in,” said Daniel Bradley, co-founder of Dreams Work, Inc., a Prince George’s based non-profit that helps youths use the arts to spread awareness of social issues. “You see a friend on Friday that you don’t see on Monday. It’s a harsh reality of their lives.”