Anthony Ayers examined the interior of a vacant house that had been broken into and whose floor was now littered with trash, cigarette butts and beer cans. Despite the vandalized backdrop, Ayers, the Capitol Heights police chief, said he still has hopes for the property.
“We’re trying to get investors to buy the abandoned houses,” Ayers said. “Or if they’re too run down, we can work with the county to get them demolished.”
The house visit was one of six on Dec. 20 by Capitol Heights and Seat Pleasant police and other Prince George’s County agencies to “problem houses” as part of the Capitol Heights Police Department’s Joint Agency Group, or JAG, program.
The initiative, started by the Capitol Heights department in October 2011, brings resources from various county agencies, like the Department of Environmental Resources and the Department of Social Services, and law enforcement to provide services to residents and to ensure swift compliance in the face of any violations.
Ayers said that having police and civilian county agencies come together on visits is more efficient and safer for everyone.
“People open the door for the police, because they don’t know what it’s about,” said Ayers, who added he has used similar interagency tactics since 2004 when he was a community oriented officer with the Prince George’s County police department. “Whereas they might not open the door [for] social services or DER.”
Ayers said JAG visits also set up a framework and written agreement for property owners to enter compliance. Since Ayers started the program as assistant chief, he said the department has visited around 120 houses, and as of Jan. 8, all but two have remained in compliance.
Danielle Long, a case associate with the county Department of Social Services’ family preservation bureau, said it’s easier for agencies to work together when they are on the same calls. “[Having the police with us] allows us to do our job effectively,” Long said. “We can show it’s really about improving the quality of life. By having various agencies, we can show it’s not just about locking people up, but saying, ‘How can we help?’”
William Maxwell, community organizer for the Greater Capitol Heights Neighborhood Watch Association, said he has been pleased with the effectiveness of the JAG program since its implementation.
“I especially like the way they work with other agencies and jurisdictions trying to help each other,” Maxwell said. “It shows that they are acting on [the community’s reports] and doing it quickly.”
Barry Wade, a housing inspector at DER, said the unified effort helps communication.
“This way, we can talk in real time, instead of having to go through various email chains,” Wade said.
Ayers said the initiative sometimes simply clears up misunderstandings among neighbors. At another Capitol Heights house, Ayers spoke to an elderly man Dec. 20 after receiving multiple complaints about congregating in front of his house.
“It turns out he and his relatives are from the South, where the custom is to entertain company out on the front porch,” Ayers said. “So I just had to encourage them to use the back lawn from now on. Some times you just have to help people deal with their fears.”