At a community meeting tonight, city police will try to explain to West Hyattsville residents how they are responding to a series of recent residential burglaries in the area.
Some of those residents, in turn, will be pushing for city officials to communicate crime and safety information more effectively with the public.
The meeting was called by city leaders at the request of area residents to discuss residential burglaries in the nearby neighborhood which have locals spooked. Attending the meeting will be Chief Doug Holland and the city police Community Action Team.
In the month of September, the last complete month for which city crime data has been released, there were 18 burglaries and one attempted burglaries reported to city police.
10 of those incidents occurred within a two block radius of Lancer Drive and 30th Avenue along the Ager Road corridor of West Hyattsville. Another six incidents occurred in East Hyattsville, all within two blocks of Hamilton Street between Queens Chapel Road and 38th Street.
Purvis said that while some in the neighborhood believe the robberies are related, police have no physical evidence linking the crimes.
"That doesn't mean they are not connected, but we don't have anything to connect them," said Purvis. "If they were, it'd be a hell of a lot easier to solve them."
Throughout the spate of recent burglaries, some city residents have pressed police for more timely information about neighborhood crimes.
Jennifer Kubit, a 33rd Street resident who helped organize the community meeting, said that the city police department could use the Nixle alert system more effectively. Citing an August shooting in West Hyattsville which police didn't widely release information about until approached by a journalist four days afterwards, Kubit speculated that if shots were fired in East Hyattsville, police would be much quicker to release information.
"If somebody got shot on Longfellow or Jefferson Street, they'll put out an APB," said Kubit.
According to Chief Holland, interviewed in August following the West Hyattsville shooting, police did not release information on that incident sooner because the shooting may have been a random occurrence.
Purvis said that police have certain criteria for when the city uses the Nixle alert system, namely: situations involving imminent threat to life and limb and also traffic.
"If there is an immediate danger, we try to get that out there right away," said Purvis. "If there's traffic congestion, we want to let people know that right away."
In interviews, both Purvis and city Communications Manager Abby Sandel have also expressed fears that sending too many messages would cause residents to tune them out.
Police will also use the alert system when they notice a pattern of incidents which may be related, like the series of rapes earlier this year on the Anacostia trail system near the West Hyattsville Metro.
Valrie Hames, a 31st Street resident said that the fear that residents would tune out messages was unfounded. Noting that weeks passed between the first and second sexual assaults which scared area residents away from the trails, she said she'd rather know that a single rape has occurred than be the second victim.
"It's not very proactive," said Hames. "That first person is already violated. I don't think you can bombard the residents with too much info."
Purvis encouraged residents to use CrimeReports.com to get more timely area crime information. The website compiles crime data from a broad swath of area law enforcement agencies. According to Purvis, Hyattsville uploads new crime information to the site every day.
"It's the closest we'll ever get to sharing real time information," said Purvis.
The website does have its limitations for the Hyattsville focused user. Members of the site can sign up for daily crime information emails, but the information can only be crudely filtered by adjusting the scale of the map. The information which CrimeReports provides is also minimal, providing only time of incident, general location, type of crime, and reporting agency.
The meeting will be held tonight, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012 starting at 8 p.m. at St. Matthews Parish at 5901 36th Avenue in Hyattsville.
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