- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The number of police officers in Prince George’s County reached a record high yesterday, after years of understaffing that officials say created major problems in their fight against escalating crime.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Police Chief Melvin C. High made the announcement at the department’s training academy in Capitol Heights, flanked by more than 100 new recruits who entered the police academy Dec. 12.

The recruits bring the total number of officers in the department to 1,478 — compared with the previous record of 1,430 in 2000. The additions also create a net gain of 155 officers since Mr. Johnson took office in 2002.

Mr. Johnson’s aggressive pursuit of police wrongdoing when he was the county’s top prosecutor created some lingering resentment within the department when he became county executive.

Now, 435 officers, nearly one in every three, have been hired during Mr. Johnson’s tenure.

He also said the county not having enough money to recruit and hire aggressively early in his administration and so many officers leaving or retiring were major factors in the escalating crime rates.

The county had recorded 167 homicides as of yesterday, breaking the previous record of 154 in 1991.

However, officials said the county’s growing population also has contributed to the increases in crime.

The county now has 844,190 residents, about 100,000 more than in 1991 and about 25,000 more than in 2000, when the number of homicides was 71.

However, county records show the number of police officers declined through attrition from a high of 1,430 in 2000 to a low of 1,323 in December 2004.

County officials estimate the 2010 population will be about 875,000 and project a force of 1,800 officers by that time. Their projections account for the loss of about 95 officers a year through attrition, during that period.

The recruit class of 117 officers is expected to graduate in August and is the largest in the department’s history.

Chief High said he is not concerned about an accelerated hiring effort leading to a situation like the one in the District in 1989, when a large number of officers were hired at one time. In the following years, more than two dozen officers from that recruit class were arrested and sent to prison. Officials determined the unusually high number of recruits strained the system and resulted in poor background checks.

“By and large we have a good process of conducting background checks on these young people,” said Chief High, who was a high-ranking official in the Metropolitan Police Department in 1989. “I don’t really have any concerns that it will be a repeat of what happened in D.C.”

Mr. Johnson said that police officials decided to cap the number of recruits in this class to minimize potential problems.

“We could have hired more, but the worst thing you want to do is bring in too many officers that you can’t train properly,” he said.

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