TEMPLE HILLS — Prince George’s County officials announced Tuesday morning the county has experienced a 33 percent drop in crime since County Executive Rushern Baker entered office in 2010, but officials say the county can still do better.
Homicides are down by 40 percent, violent crimes are down by 35 percent and there were 2,389 fewer victims of crime in 2014 than there were in 2013.
County Executive Rushern Baker III said he believes the county police have set an example for the rest of the country to follow.
“At a time when the country was going through turmoil with protests in the street, I was in Massachusetts visiting with my momma and I turned on the T.V. I saw the police chief and our community talking about how we do it differently,” Baker said. “Do we have challenges? Yes. Is everything perfect? No it is not, but that is the image that I wanted to see.”
Prince George’s County Police Chief Mark Magaw said the reduction in the county’s crime rate did not occur in a vacuum, but rather as a result of the police department’s effort to build relationships with the community as well as more cohesion between county departments.
“Everyone that is here today, especially on this panel, everybody has been involved in the fight,” Magaw said. “Under Mr. Baker’s holistic approach, we work collaboratively with every agency in this county government and every county agency is involved in this fight.”
But the fight against crime is not over, Magaw said. The county had 54 murders last year; a number that Magaw said is still too high.
“We can do better and we will do better. That is our goal,” Magaw said.
County Councilwoman Karen Toles (District 7), previously the chair of the council’s public safety committee, said the decrease in the county’s crime rate came as a result of an improved relationship between elected officials, the police department and the community.
“At a time when our public safety officials are facing so much scrutiny across the country, I can tell you that Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland’s governor gets it right,” Toles said. “Working with my colleagues, we have built stronger communities, stronger relationships and stronger partnerships. Our elected officials go above and beyond the scope to improve the quality of life of the residents of this great county.”
Governor Martin O’Malley, whose term comes to an end next week, said he commends the work done by Prince George’s elected officials, the police department and the community to decrease crime.
“I was looking at these numbers and there is no more important work that we do in the government than this work,” O’Malley said. “You guys should be very proud of what you have going on in Prince George’s County. This is such a powerful and important story to the counterpoints of the tragedy in Ferguson and the acrimony in New York.”
In his stint as mayor in Baltimore, O’Malley said it took seven years to reduce the crime in the city by 36 percent. Comparatively, O’Malley said, it took four years for Prince George’s County to reduce crime by 40 percent.
“It has been a beautiful thing to see—all of the lives that you have saved,” O’Malley said. “My final words to you are keep doing what you’re doing. You have better days ahead of you. Even with tremendous results you can do this again. So, Prince George’s County, keep moving forward.”
Magaw said crime tips from the community and improved communication and cooperation between police and citizens have also played a large part in the reduction of crime across the county.
One area where Magaw said he would like to improvement in 2015 is eliminating domestic violence. In 2014, seven children three years or younger died because of domestic violence incidents.
“That number is unacceptable,” Magaw said. “This is what drives us every hour of every day—to make sure we stop this kind of violence. 37 percent of the homicides in the county were family related. The family is at the heart of who we are as a community, so there is still so much work to be done.”
Even though crime has fallen, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said the county should not claim victory, especially in light of the seven children who died.
“It’s simply unacceptable,” Alsobrooks said.
In order to help stop domestic violence, Prince George’s County Sheriff Melvin High said his department plans to increase communication with abusers to find the root cause for domestic violence issues. “Right now, we get about 17,000 or 18,000 protective orders every year. That means there are 18,000 abusers,” High said. “So if we can interact with the abusers and find out why they abuse, then we will reduce those numbers.”
High also said he wants to make domestic violence an issue a talk-able issue, because many people are afraid to talk about it. Whether the person they talk to is in their church, their home, or their police department, High said he plans to work with the county to encourage victims to speak to someone about abuse.
With O’Malley leaving office soon, High said, the county has concerns about whether Governor-Elect Larry Hogan will be a partner with the county on issues concerning crime because his priorities are unknown.
However, High said, the county does hope Hogan will work with the county and have a continued focus on crime prevention just as the previous administration did.
Alsobrooks said O’Malley has played a role in helping Prince George’s County lower its crime rate. The governor never hesitated to provide funds when it came to crime prevention, she said.
“I hope that we don’t have to begin conversations anymore about what our crime reductions are because we are moving forward in so many other aspects,” Alsobrooks said. “And it is sustainable. That requires so much strategy and that is what we’ve done. Prince George’s County is so much more than crime and I want the whole world to see that.”