Third District extends patrol of Silver Spring's Central Business District through June
Downtown Silver Spring protected by extra layer of police
It was just after 9 p.m. Thursday when a couple approached two police officers standing at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive to report that someone had broken into their car.
Within 20 minutes, a report had been written, fingerprints had been dusted and the couple were headed back home. And Montgomery County police officers Sgt. Kevin Sullivan and Neil Reilly were back on the street corner, preparing to take yet another stroll through the heart of downtown Silver Spring.
The overtime patrol of the central business district in Silver Spring started as temporary detail aimed at reassuring a frightened public following a violent brawl that erupted at Veterans Plaza July 12. But Third District police officials extended it earlier this month, and it is now expected to last through June 2011.This means that at least two officers will walk the beat on foot each night from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., taking calls and deflecting crime from the popular area from the Silver Spring Metrorail station north to the new Civic Building on Ellsworth.
"If they hadn't found us, they would have called patrol, and that would have taken a patrol officer off the streets," Sullivan said after helping the distressed couple. "[This patrol] allows us to get the visibility that we need out here that, with the number of officers we have and the number of calls for service we take, we just can't always provide," he added.
The extension of the detail was met with mixed responses on the part of business leaders and residents who are happy to see the detail continue but upset that it has yet to be made part of the department's permanent regular patrol.
"We need to have our policing brought up to the level of growth we've experienced in the last six years," said Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce President Jane Redicker. "We feel like, like our neighbors in Bethesda, it is time we had a group of dedicated police officers for the [Central Business District] here."
Both the Second and Fourth District police deploy regular patrols in the business districts in Bethesda and Wheaton, respectively, but the Silver Spring patrol, which is in the Third District, is still staffed by volunteer officers working for overtime pay, said Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks.
"It needs to be discussed and talked about as to how this is going to work practically so that overtime funds aren't used or resources aren't drawn from other parts of the department to fund the [detail]," he said. "We want to make it a part of the police budget and not as something extra."
Starks was not sure exactly how long the cash-strapped department would be able to fund the extra detail in downtown Silver Spring, and assigning a permanent patrol to the area would require even more resources in the form of additional officers in the Third District, which is already short by eight officers, according to recent estimates.
Both of these factors need to be taken into account before the department can assign a permanent patrol, Starks said.
"We are strapped in the way of personnel and in the way of funding, [but] that's the hope," Starks said of the plan to staff a regular Third District patrol of the Central Business District. "We want to be able to present it to the decision-makers outside of the police as an approved, permanent part of the police budget moving forward."
Nonetheless, the news that the patrol could soon become a reality has many businesses and area leaders excited, including Jennifer Nettles, manager of Downtown Silver Spring for Peterson Cos., which manages properties on Ellsworth Drive through an agreement with the county.
"We're going forward and standing behind [the police] before the county council for the next fiscal year, because that's our biggest concern right now, getting those funds appropriated for a permanent patrol," she said. "We support them 100 percent in that."
Meanwhile back on the street, officers like Sullivan and Reilly wait for the word from their superiors over the special patrol.
"We're still looking around, keeping on top of things and staying visible, and all of that acts as a deterrent to criminals," Reilly said of the patrol, which he says is more than just a handful of extra police standing around on Friday and Saturday nights.
Sullivan agreed, adding that, while it is impossible to say how much crime the detail has prevented since it began in July, the number of calls for service police are receiving just outside of the central business district shows that the increased police visibility downtown may be pushing would-be criminals out of the area and away from the crowds of pedestrians criminals used to use to blend in and escape police.
"What you can measure is the displacement of the crime and the lack of robberies and other calls for service we've responded to since it was brought back [in July]," he said. "I'd like to see it brought back as a regular patrol."
As if on cue, a radio call is dispatched for a public disturbance happening about a mile outside of the business district on Georgia Avenue. Sullivan and Reilly exchange a look; while the regular patrol officers are out of the area handling the disturbance, they will make sure the busy central business district is protected.