- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

Prince George’s Police Chief Melvin C. High said yesterday the county is off to a good start this year in reducing crime, but residents’ help is needed to sustain that progress.

“We’ve had a good 2006, so far,” he said. “Our productivity is significantly high, and it’s reflected in the crime going down significantly. Murders are down about 40 percent, [and] robberies and rapes are down. It’s because the community and the department are working harder, and we working smarter and collaboratively at this.”

The county unofficially tallied 21 slayings as of late February, compared with about 40 in mid-March of last year.

Chief High made his comments at the Laurel Park horse-racing track before he was honored at the second annual “Racing to Eradicate Gun Violence” day, an event sponsored by two local anti-violence groups.

“There needs to be a coordinated, cohesive effort between [Prince George’s and the District] to get rid of gun violence,” said Kenny Barnes of ROOT, Reaching Out to Others Together Inc., one of the event’s organizers.

His son, Kenny Barnes Jr., was killed in 2001 during a robbery at Boutique U, the son’s clothing store in Northwest.

“It’s not just a Prince George’s County or a D.C. problem. It’s a problem that both share,” Mr. Barnes said. “We’re all working together to try to bring some attention to the issue, because it’s an epidemic.”

ROOT Inc. and the D.C. chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) have worked together to educate residents about gun violence.

“Our mission is to improve relations between the community and law enforcement, so we teamed up with Kenny, because it’s such a noble cause,” said Stephanie Davis, chairman of the outreach committee of NOBLE’s D.C. chapter. “We want to show that law enforcement [officials] do want guns off the street. We want to stop the violence.”

Chief High said that his officers and Metropolitan Police Department officers work closely together, often patrolling areas in the same cruisers. He and Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey also regularly discuss the cross-border initiative, implemented in 1999.

“The county borders are not a barrier for us anymore, just like they have not been for the criminals in a while,” Chief High said.

“So we’re linked. What happens in D.C. is our problem. What happens in Prince George’s County is Montgomery and Anne Arundel’s problem.”

Chief High said last year, when the county had a record 173 homicides, that hiring more officers would help reduce violent crime, and he plans to bring in 200 more officers in fiscal 2006. He and Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democrat, also last summer took to task unproductive officers on the force, whom they said were stifling their community-policing program.

Under that model, all police officers are trained as community-policing specialists. Each one handles calls for service in an assigned area and works with residents to solve long-standing issues.

“These are very challenging issues, and if we don’t bring our best efforts, we won’t get ahead of these issues,” Chief High said. “That was my challenge to all of us — to me, to our officers, to the community. We all have to work hard.”

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