Police in downtown Silver Spring recently have had success in lowering certain crimes and in traffic control but staffing shortages impact how officers respond to calls, a Montgomery County police commander told a leading local citizens group Monday.
Third District Commander David McBain told the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board in its monthly Zoom meeting that in the first quarter of 2022 there were no homicides in the area, and that robberies and theft from autos were down. His statistics at the meeting covered only the downtown Silver Spring area, a sector dubbed George by the police.
Auto theft continues to be a problem though “regionally that’s up all over the place,” said McBain. Around 50 percent of vehicle thefts occur when the driver steps out of the vehicle, leaving the keys in a running car. Police are also seeing criminals breaking into homes, stealing car keys, then stealing the vehicle, said McBain.
The downtown area last year saw highly publicized reports of shootings and car clubs virtually taking over the Ellsworth and Fenton intersection. Residents have complained that patrons leave nightclubs at the 3 a.m. closing time but then hang out at 24-hour shops in the area.
Police have been putting more officers on downtown streets and have teamed with the Maryland State Police on Friday and Saturday nights to cover the sector, according to McBain. There are also continuing discussions with county leadership on business hours, he said.
This summer, Silver Spring should also be seeing more officers on bicycles with 12 officers already deployed after graduating from ‘bike school.’
McBain said bike patrols are one part of a concerted effort to get more officers out in the Veterans Plaza, Bonifant Street, and Georgia Avenue areas. “We want a presence, to show we are out there.”
Crime in Veterans Plaza is a particular concern. “We won’t abandon that. That’s supposed to be family-friendly.”
McBain said he is down 26 officers, with some officers deciding to get out of law enforcement entirely, while others shift to another district in Maryland. The high cost of living here has translated into 45 percent of 3rd District officers living outside Montgomery County, said McBain.
The shortage means each officer must respond to more calls, leading to burnout. There’s also a shortage at the emergency call center which can lead to a delay in the response to a call for service, he says.
There is some good news, McBain said. The county executive and council have agreed to increase officer pay so the county is more competitive in the compensation package it offers its officers.
One way the county addresses the shortage is the installation of more traffic cameras at major arterial streets where there is a history of collisions, said McBain. Data on issued tickets shows that the cameras help to slow traffic, at least initially, he said.
“In part, this is because the cameras are new. Soon drivers realize the cameras are there and they respond,” said McBain.
For instance, the district installed cameras covering the north and south lanes at the 9000 block of Georgia Ave., he said. On May 20, there were 100 tickets issued for violations in the southbound lanes, but on May 22 that fell to 77 tickets. For the northbound lanes, 370 tickets were issued for violations on May 18, but that fell to 221 tickets on May 22.
The central business district has ordered a half dozen more cameras and a new license plate reader camera system will soon be deployed, McBain said.
The police also are trying this summer to increase their interactions with the community that go beyond walking a beat.
A four-week, three-on-three basketball tournament for 12- to 17-year-olds began recently in the White Oak area in conjunction with Montgomery County Recreation and the Police Foundation, said McBain.
Plans call for expanding this program and similar engagement activities to other parts of the Silver Spring area.