- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson said yesterday he plans to hire 150 new police officers a year for the next six years in response to an escalating homicide total, which this year could rise to double the number of killings four years ago.

As of yesterday, there had been 97 killings in Prince George’s County this year, with nine homicides between Aug. 26 and 31 alone. The county is on pace for 140 killings this year.

Last year, there were 128 homicides in the county. Mr. Johnson said that despite the spate of recent killings he is “optimistic” that the homicide total would be less than or comparable to last year’s.

“Our numbers are not changing,” he said. “In the last six years, our numbers have shifted two or three or four homicides, maybe five homicides a year. We’ve had an aberration in one or two weeks, and we have to see what the aberration means. It doesn’t mean things are changing at all.”

But the 140 killings projected for this year are nearly double the 71 the county recorded in 2000 as part of a downward trend from 1991, when there were 154 homicides.

“When you look at the 1991 number and you go to 2000, that’s a huge drop,” Mr. Johnson said. “Could we sustain that? I don’t know.”

So far this year, Montgomery County has had 13 killings, while Fairfax County has had five. The jurisdictions are the two most populous in the metropolitan area.

The increase in the total killings in Prince George’s County also stands in stark contrast to the District, where homicides are headed toward a 20-year low.

The District has had 133 killings this year, compared to 175 this time last year.

Prince George’s County Police Chief Melvin C. High, who was picked by Mr. Johnson in May 2003 to turn around a police force troubled for years by escalating crime and accusations of officer misconduct, said local and national social and economic issues have contributed to the number of homicides.

“There have been some changes in the District of Columbia, our border community, and within our county in terms of growth and population,” Chief High said.

Mr. Johnson suggested that economic policies in the District may have had some effect on crime in Prince George’s County.

“I’ve spoken to [D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams] about this issue because it is of concern to us, in terms of the housing policies and other issues in the District of Columbia, [which] affect what happens in Prince George’s County,” Mr. Johnson said. “The policy that shifts the load, the struggling people, to our region in disproportionate numbers brings certain challenges with it.”

Some of the new officers will replace those retiring, raising the total to the county’s authorized force of 1,420. Chief High said the county started the fiscal year last October with 1,308 officers, though the number has fallen to about 1,280.

Once the authorized slots are filled, Mr. Johnson said he will seek approval from the County Council to raise the cap. Police officials estimate that the authorized strength would be about 1,800 officers at the end of six years.

That total would far exceed Fairfax County’s authorized strength of 1,259 officers and Montgomery County’s authorized strength of 1,100 officers. Fairfax County and Montgomery County have similar land areas, budgets and populations to Prince George’s County.

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