UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s county residents gathered Tuesday for a town hall meeting with the heads of all the county departments to discuss how to improve public safety.
Police Chief Mark Magaw began by outlining the recent reduction in violent crime in the county. The number of homicides has decreased from 161 in 2005 to 56 in 2013, and 21 so far in 2014.
“The police department is only as good as its relationship with the community,” Magaw said. “We strive to build that community every day and as we do our effectiveness gets better and we effectively drive down crime.”
Fire Chief Marc Bashoor credited the County Council and its recent legislation for last year’s record low for fire deaths. He referenced legislation regarding 10-year battery smoke alarms, carbon monoxide requirements and reorganization of the fire commission.
Bahsoor also said the department has increased its volunteer firefighter base and improved response times.
Sheriff Melvin High expressed concerns over his department’s stagnating budget and resources. The sheriff’s office receives 6.8 percent of public safety spending, he said, the least of any department.
“The agency has suffered for not having adequate levels of both staffing and funding,” High said, “essentially requiring us to manage greater workloads with resources with levels below where they were 5 years ago at a time when workload demands were smaller.”
The sheriff’s department is responsible for serving warrants, courthouse security, child support enforcement and domestic violence intervention.
Assistant State’s Attorney Donnell Turner detailed some of the successful cases the attorney’s office has prosecuted in the last year, including the recent conviction of Darrell Bellard on four counts of first degree murder and the conviction of Kevon Neal, who was found guilty for the death of police officer Adrian Morris. Turner also discussed recent legislation which has helped the state’s attorney, such as a law regarding threats of mass violence and another eliminating the statute of limitations for use of handguns in felony offenses.
The director of the Department of Corrections, Mary Lou McDonough, informed the public of the department’s duties beyond incarcerating criminals. Other departmental duties include vocation training, job placement, educational, spiritual and psychological services for detainees.
“We protect the safety of the citizens of Prince George’s County by keeping offenders secure,” McDonough said, “but we also provide opportunities so that our detainees are better citizens when they leave us.”
McDonough also discussed recent changes to the departments’ processing procedures which were intended to give detainees greater access to representation but have also doubled the processing time, creating a backup and a need for increased overtime hours.
Office of Homeland Security Director Brian Moe outlined his department’s emergency procedure and announced the ground breaking for a new public safety complex on July 16 in Landover. In addition, he praised the department for becoming the fifth triple-credited 9-1-1 center in the world.
Michael Lyles, executive director of the Human Relations Commission discussed the commission’s mission to help promote equality for all county residents.
“Our job is primarily to end discrimination by dispensing quick justice and prosecuting or mediating claims of unlawful discrimination and unfair treatment,” Lyles said.
Since he took over as executive director, Lyles said the commission has drastically reduced its backlog and improved the quality and efficiency of its investigations.
After the presentations, which lasted about two hours, there was a 25-minute period of comments and questions from the audience. The issues brought up ranged from prostitution to speed cameras and automobile theft.
College Park City Councilman Patrick Wojahn asked police to communicate more with city officials to improve enforcement of prostitution laws.
“I want to ask that the police let us know as a city and let county officials know what tools you need to be more effective in reducing prostitution,” Wojahn said. “People talk about prostitution as a victimless crime and unfortunately it’s not.”
Council Chairman Mel Franklin said he enjoyed the forum because it provides open communication between the departments and the citizens they protect.
“Our goal has been to provide citizens with an update and open forum for dialogue about public safety in the county,” Franklin said. “I am confident we accomplished that goal.”