Prince George’s County police recently announced an arrest in a large-scale stolen merchandise operation — an example, officials said, of how their efforts of addressing large criminal operations have helped reduce overall county crime.
The illegal operation accounted for countless shoplifting incidents and nearly $20,000 in stolen handbags, jewelry, shoes, liquor and other items from retailers, police said. Police arrested hair salon owner Esther Goodwin, 39, of Hyattsville on Sept. 12 for felony theft, and are seeking at least four others allegedly involved in the ring.
Officials said looking at the bigger picture of criminal operations rather than stopping at a petty shoplifting crime is taking repeat offenders off the street and reducing the amount of violent and property crimes.
“Our operation was only on [Goodwin] since June, so who knows how long she had been doing this,” said Sgt. Aubrey Thompson of the department’s special enforcement division. “It may be lucrative now, but we’re putting an end to it.”
Last year, there were a total of 95 homicides in Prince George’s County. So far this year, county police have recorded 49 homicides, a roughly 37 percent decline from the same point in the previous year. For overall violent crimes, which include assault, murder, rape and robbery, the county is seeing a 4.7 percent decline from last year, officials said.
Other crimes also are down compared to the same point last year. Property crimes are down 7.6 percent, burglaries are down 24 percent, and stolen auto incidents are down 15.3 percent.
Police Chief Mark Magaw said there are a lot of reasons for the drop in crime.
In recent years, the department has streamlined its robbery unit, putting a single commander as the head of robbery investigations rather than police districts investigating them individually, which Magaw said has placed more focus and urgency on robberies. Robberies also are down 12.1 percent from last year.
Additionally, an evidence unit was created in January that takes evidence from the Criminal Investigations Division and links it with the Forensic Services Division so they can work hand-in-hand on incidents such as shootings, Magaw said. The effort makes district-level units more efficient and able to focus on breaking-and-enterings and similar crimes, he said.
“We’re focusing on the right people, the people that will victimize,” he said.
Magaw also said police have shuttered 12 nightclubs since legislation cracking down on them went became law in July 2011. The law outlines possible violations nightclubs might face regarding use-and-occupancy regulations, and calls upon the police department, Department of Environmental Resources and fire/EMS department to review and revoke permits if clubs are found to be in violation. County officials have said some nightclubs can be a magnet for criminal activity.
Statewide, there were 398 homicides in 2011, a 6.6 percent decline from 2010. So far this year, there have been 262 homicides in Maryland, said Bill Toohey, a spokesman for the state governor’s office of crime control and prevention. Overall violent crimes and property crimes also have dropped statewide. Toohey said robberies went from 14,375 in 2006 to 10,338 in 2011.
Magaw said despite the positive results, the department will continue efforts to reduce levels even further.
“Even though these are good statistics, it’s important that the understanding is we’re not losing focus. We’re not closing the year out,” Magaw said.