- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

Bowie residents want to create their own police department, saying Prince George’s County takes too long to respond to their calls and that escalating crime elsewhere in the county keeps officers away from their city.

“We’re not being critical of the county’s police personnel,” City Manager David J. Deutsch said. “The dilemma is one of staffing and resources.”

The issue is scheduled for a vote Nov. 8 and takes place as the county approaches a record-breaking number of homicides.

As of last week, there have been more than 125 slayings — on pace to break the 1991 record of 158 killings and to reach 170 by year’s end.

This is not the first attempt by Bowie officials to improve police protection beyond what the county provides. The county has 20 officers who patrol a police district that includes, but is not limited to, the city of Bowie.

The city has paid the county since 1994 for the services of an additional six officers to work within city limits.

But city officials say that they still do not have enough of a police presence.

Prince George’s County Police Chief Melvin C. High responded to the concerns by vowing in 2004 to increase the number of officers to 40 by July 31.

However, Bowie officials said the county added only three officers.

“My understanding is that there are times when there are no uniformed police in Bowie because they are needed elsewhere,” said City Council member Dennis Brady, who supports the referendum.

In response to the question about whether enough resources are devoted to Bowie, Maj. Michael Blow, who commands the police district in which the city is located, said only that police are “always looking for more resources.”

He said officers patrolling the district are pulled away only in cases of a nearby life-threatening emergency.

Maj. Blow said officers are making more arrests in the district so four or five officers might be in court during their shifts.

Bowie Mayor Frederick Robinson has led the campaign to put the measure on the ballot and inform voters of its costs and benefits.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

According to statistics provided by Bowie officials, the county’s response times to priority calls in their city have slowed to 11 minutes and six seconds. In addition, reductions in crime in Bowie have lagged behind larger reductions statewide and in several other municipalities with their own police departments.

However, only one of the county’s 148 homicides last year occurred in Bowie.

A similar measure in Bowie to create a city police force failed in 1996.

Mr. Robinson said it occurred two years before he was elected mayor and did not include a public-education campaign. About 40 residents attended a community forum last week, and three others are planned in October.

Mr. Robinson predicted 60 percent of votes will support the referendum. The city charter does not allow for a resident vote to force such a change. But Mr. Robinson said members of the city’s nonpartisan council have assured him that they will vote the will of the people.

Council member William A. Aleshire, a retired 21-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, said he is undecided on the issue but will act in accordance with the majority of the votes.

He was opposed to putting the question to the voters in a 4-3 council vote in April, which was decided by the mayor’s vote.

Mr. Aleshire said he was opposed to language on the referendum that related to cost, not to starting a city police force.

Officials estimate starting a police force will cost $7 million and that annual expenses will be slightly less than $7 million.

The 16-square-mile city of 55,000 residents had a median household income in 2004 of $85,240, compared to $59,964 for the county and $57,218 for the state.

Roughly 63 percent of the city is white and 31 percent is black. Countywide statistics show 27 percent of residents are white and 63 percent are black.

The Bowie force, which would be the 21st municipal police force in the county, would have 57 sworn officers, to be hired over at least four years. The county would patrol Bowie until its force is at full strength. However, it would continue to dispatch calls, investigate major crimes such as rape and murder, provide DNA and fingerprint analysis and hostage-and-barricade teams.

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