- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

Prince George’s County Police Chief Melvin C. High yesterday announced a 30-day initiative to stabilize crime in the county by assigning teams of officers to 11 “hot spots” for overnight patrols on weekends.

The initiative, called “Operation Secure Neighborhoods,” began May 22 and is the first crime-fighting initiative instituted by Chief High since he took over the department May 1.

“Crime stabilization is an immediate need,” Chief High said. “Our overall goal is to bring calm to the county, allow our citizens to live without fear, and curtail crime.”

As of yesterday there had been 48 homicides in the county, compared with 51 last year. Citizen robberies rose as of May 18 to 833 from 722 during the same period last year; and 5,377 vehicles had been stolen compared with 4,423 last year.

Chief High said he selected the neighborhoods to be targeted for the patrols based on crime analysis and resident complaints. The neighborhoods selected are Langley Park, New Carrollton, Landover, Palmer Park, Forestville, Capitol Heights, Eastover/Glassmanor, Temple Hills, Largo/Kettering, Clinton and Laurel.

Teams of five officers and a sergeant will patrol the areas on foot, on bicycles or in squad cars Thursdays through Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. They are supported by officers from specialized units such as the auto-crimes team or the narcotics-enforcement team.

At the end of 30 days, the chief said he will decide whether the operation should be extended or if the county is ready to implement a long-term community-policing model.

“Right now we’re focusing on two things, … violent crime — and that includes all of the violent crime categories — and the auto theft issue,” he said.

The first weekend of the operation resulted in four felony and 12 misdemeanor arrests and 147 traffic citations. Officers confiscated 15.5 grams of marijuana, 2.7 grams of cocaine, 2 grams of crack cocaine and $1,300 in cash.

Chief High said the operation is using $200,000 of seized criminals’ assets for its primary funding. The patrol teams have volunteered for the overtime duty.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson pledged to support the operation even if that means providing more money to fund the patrols. But he said the operation would not draw officers from patrols in other parts of the county.

“This is an enhancement,” Mr. Johnson said. “Because it is an enhancement, it means that every area in the county is getting the kind of services that it should get. But we are just doing additional work in these areas.”

Mr. Johnson said he hopes the enhanced police visibility will show residents that the county is serious about curtailing crime and “let the criminals in Prince George’s County know that their days are numbered.”

“I think the past has shown that there’s a small group of people out there doing the same crimes over and over and over,” Mr. Johnson said. “They’re out there robbing people, shooting people, carjacking people and they’re killing people. If we can break up those activities, arrest a few of them, we’re going to see big developments.”

Chief High, a strong advocate of community policing, said the operation is similar to one he instituted in Norfolk when he became police chief there in 1993 after 24 years with the Metropolitan Police Department. Chief High is credited with reducing the homicide rate from about 90 per year in Norfolk to about 30 per year.

Chief High also said he hopes to show police officers on the force, which is the subject of two ongoing excessive-force investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, that he believes in proactive policing.

“We do want them to engage,” Chief High said. “What we want from our officers as they go out there and engage and do all those things is [to understand] that we have to be sound in what we do. We have to understand that as we go out there and be proactive the civil liberties of our citizens are very important.”

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