Moments before Prince George’s County police held a “roll call” to review the evening’s policing tasks Jan. 3, two men were arrested for smoking marijuana just feet away.
The meeting — at a District Heights shopping center — was held to highlight the department’s second January Enforcement Operation, an initiative to keep violent crime down at the start of the New Year by adjusting the schedules of an additional 100 to 150 special enforcement officers to allow them to patrol county streets each night of the month.
In January 2010, there were 14 recorded homicides within a 14-day span. The county police department began the January Enforcement Operation based on that rash of murders in addition to finding January to be a month with higher crime trends in recent years.
“There is no science to when crime is up or down. January, May and August are months we’ve seen in recent years that require our best effort,” said Assistant Chief Kevin Davis. “If we get into 2014 and see that we need to put extra attention in February, we’ll do it in February.”
The marijuana possession arrest Jan. 3 was just a fragment of the activity police encountered three days into the enforcement operation. That evening, police arrested two teen auto theft suspects who bailed out of the car they allegedly stole in District Heights and led police on a foot chase through several residential yards before being apprehended. Those suspects, police said, ended up being linked to a number of burglaries in the area.
Officers also engaged in a vehicle chase in Glenarden, leading to the arrest of two men who had been under police surveillance for possession and distribution of PCP, police said.
In the first two days of January, Maj. Pete Eliadis, commander of the special operations unit, said police made 30 arrests for various offenses and seized six guns and ammunition that were being possessed illegally. As of Tuesday, there have been no recorded homicides for 2013.
Lt. Scott Finn, commander of the street crimes unit, led officers in District 3 on Jan. 3. He said although there was no specific reason or connection in the 2010 chain of homicides, the county wanted to take a proactive approach in fighting crime.
“These officers are the best the county has to offer. We want to saturate all these areas and we’re going to have a zero-tolerance approach,” said Finn, an 18-year veteran.
Eliadis said the effort is to showcase police visibility.
“We are collectively standing shoulder-to-shoulder and exposing the criminal elements,” Eliadis said. “Primarily, we’re looking for guns and associated violence.”
The department is working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to seize weapons and prevent criminal activity throughout January, said ATF agent Bill McMullan, the resident agent in charge of the Baltimore Field Division.
“ATF will be providing manpower and added resources to be teamed up side-by-side with the officers in the county,” he said. “For violent crimes, we will be there on scene to conduct interviews and make determinations if we need to prosecute federally. This is not new for us. We’ve worked hundreds of investigations with Prince George’s County.”
For gun offenses that police officers encounter, McMullan said ATF agents will respond to the scene and begin tracking the origins of firearms to see where they came from and if they were obtained illegally.
Eliadis said the key to the operation is to speak to residents to develop leads and learn of potential criminal activity surfacing in the county.
“We’re targeting selected areas based on communities we’ve developed in the past. We did it last year. We have an established track record,” said Eliadis, noting the 230 contacts with residents in the first two days of the operation. Eliadis said making contact could mean anything from a traffic stop to executing a search warrant to starting a conversation with a resident while passing them on a sidewalk.
Eliadis said the department will analyze crime trends as the year continues and likely do another similar enforcement operation at the beginning of the summer.