A multi-agency push to reduce crime last summer in Prince George's County has won acclaim from the Maryland Association of Counties.
The intergovernmental association recognized the county police department for its "2011 Summer Crime Initiative" yesterday, awarding it the President's Healthy Counties Award at the annual Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City.
Lt. Col. Hector Velez, deputy chief of the county police patrol bureau, said the award shows the county has charted a "new direction" to reduce crime.
"It shows that what we are doing is effective and that we aren't taking on this mission alone," said Velez in an interview.
The plan was drawn up in 2011 when a series of slayings in the year's early months
Crime was down overall in Prince George's County in 2011,
Despite the declines, police said that areas with persistently high crime rates needed more than just police work to improve. The initiative focused on five Prince George's County neighborhoods: Langley Park, Riverdale, Suitland, Hillcrest Heights and Glassmanor.
"Many of the issues which cause crime cannot be addressed or resolved by the police department," said Velez in an interview.
Take loitering, for example. Velez said police can confront loiterers and ask them to move on or make arrests if necessary, but that wouldn't address the root cause of the loitering.
"The solution is to go inside and find out why they are loitering," said Velez. "Do they not have jobs? Do they need training? It's a holistic approach to addressing the community as a whole rather than going out and defining it as a police problem."
With a holistic mantra in mind, the police partnered with eight county agencies, including the Department of Environmental Resources and the Department of Social Services, to identify the range of issues which contribute to criminality in a community.
Police said the initiative was a success. Last September, county police announced that the initiative resulted in an average 18 percent reduction in crime in the five neighborhoods it targeted.
That contributed greatly to the overall reduction in crime last year, said Velez.
Since then, the initiative has evolved. No longer known as the the "summer crime initiative", the multi-agency effort is now called the "Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative."
It features county department heads meeting weekly to discuss crime at police headquarters. The initiative also assigns inter-agency teams to neighborhoods with the goal of reducing crime.
"It's kind of a summer crime initiative on steroids," said Velez.
Velez credits the new, pumped up anti-crime effort with declines in the crime rate seen so far this year.