Crime in Prince George's is at lowest level since 1975, police say
Rate declined 12 percent in 2009
The number of crimes reported in Prince George's County dropped 12 percent in 2009, bringing the crime rate down to its lowest level since 1975, the Prince George's County police announced Jan. 7.
Reports of violent crimes, which include homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults, dropped from 6,387 to 5,693 in 2009. The violent crime rate is 35 percent lower than five years ago, police said.
Other significant decreases from 2008 to 2009 include a 25 percent reduction in vehicle thefts, down to 6,106 thefts, and a 44 percent decrease in carjackings, down to 209 incidents. Property crimes dropped overall by 12 percent down to 31,785 incidents. Burglaries decreased 2 percent to 6,437 incidents.
At a news conference held at police headquarters in Palmer Park, Police Chief Roberto Hylton said the department's community policing strategy has resulted in decreases in crime over the last five years but a new emphasis on police accountability and targeted initiatives for specific areas of concern has lead to the further reductions this year.
"The agency is on the right track. We are all about accountability," Hylton said.
By targeting police enforcement at nightclubs, where police say criminal activity has been prevalent, and working with other area police departments to address gang-related violence, Hylton said police have seen a drop in homicides related to those concerns. The number of homicides committed at nightclubs dropped from 12 in 2008 to four in 2009 and from seven gang-related homicides in 2008 to zero in 2009 in the county, he said.
A total of 99 homicides occurred in the county last year, Hylton said. Ninety-two of the homicides were investigated by county police; the others were handled by other agencies. County police investigated a total of 117 homicides in 2008; 131 homicides were reported in the county.
"You have gone beyond anybody's expectations," County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said to Hylton at the conference.
Members of the department's Criminal Investigations Division said having a full staff of 30 homicide investigators plus the re-establishment last year of a Cold Case Homicide Unit to investigate old cases has contributed to a higher homicide closure rate for the department. Any homicide that was closed in 2009 was counted in the closure rate, regardless of what year the homicide occurred. The department lists a 79 percent homicide closure rate for 2009; however, 22 cases closed in 2009 occurred in prior years, said Maj. Lawrence Gordon, CID commander.
To continue to curb crime, police plan to tackle school truancy through a soon-to-be-announced program that can be implemented by the community and to continue work on their anti-gang initiative by cracking down on human trafficking and problem party houses, Hylton said.
Simply arresting students who are skipping school will not solve the truancy problems, Hylton said. Instead, he would like to see communities become involved in solutions.
"These kids need treatment. These are symptoms we want to remove before dealing with crime," he said.
Hylton also hopes to work with the community more to focus on intervention programs for youth so they do not resort to gang activity.
While some of the initiatives introduced to fight crime have been controversial, such as the shuttering of nightclubs in problem areas and the stricter regulation of items that can be sold in pawnshops, Johnson said the numbers have shown those initiatives are paying off for the community.
"I'm confident our crime numbers will be even better next year," Johnson said.
In 2009, there were 37,478 crimes reported either from the department's CID or its dispatch system, compared to 42,684 reported in 2008.
In addition to lower crime rates, Hylton said the department is also making strides in community relations.
"It's all about treating people with respect and dignity," Hylton said. "We are humanizing this police department. We come to work every day to make a difference."
From 2008 to 2009, the department has received about a quarter fewer complaints about police conduct and had half the number of officer-involved shootings, according to officials. Officer-involved shootings were down to 12 in 2009 with three fatal shootings.
E-mail Andrea Noble at email@example.com.