Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

High marks for outreach Residents welcome new force that goes ‘extra mile’

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Christopher Anderson⁄The Star
Bowie police chief Katherine Perez (left) talks with officers during the afternoon shift change on Jan. 24.
Bowie Police Chief Katherine Perez says the ‘‘criminal element” know they are not welcome in Bowie since the city launched its police force a year ago.

The department’s top priorities, she says, have been visibility, community engagement, and even some old-fashioned detective work to bring lawbreakers to justice.

Statistics show that so far, officers have made more than 100 arrests, including an alleged child sexual predator and members of a drug-distribution ring.

As recently as December, Bowie police worked with several law enforcement agencies to conduct its first ‘‘warrant sweep,” which resulted in more than 20 arrests in Bowie and surrounding areas.

Perez recruited the first six officers to the force early February last year. Today, the department has 30 officers and plans to reach its full strength of 57 officers by 2010. The department plans to hire at least three more officers by June.

The department handled 1,157 incidents from April to November, an average of 4.8 per day, according to department statistics, many of which are for theft and vandalism.

Perez and Deputy Police Chief John Nesky both said their officers are taking it upon themselves to do follow-up investigations and close cases, even though county police take the lead in the more serious crimes such as armed robberies.

‘‘If you have [a lead] that’s substantial and you can close it, close it,” Nesky said. ‘‘It doesn’t make sense to ... give it to someone else if we can close it right here.”

Perez said her officers ‘‘go the extra mile” to solve cases.

In one instance, police took action after a Bowie resident came home March 31 to find a strange man in his home with his teenage granddaughter.

The 20-year-old man had traveled to Bowie after talking with the 13-year-old via the Internet, according to police reports.

Officer Patrick Mosley followed up, got an arrest warrant and went to Delaware to arrest him. Charges against the man were later dropped, according to court records.

In another case, Officer Jamie Anderson followed up on a traffic stop, which led to a September drug raid on a townhouse on Piller Lane. Six people were arrested, and marijuana, ecstasy, heroin and an AK-47 were confiscated from the home.

Two of those arrested will appear in court in February. Charges were dropped against two others and there’s no court record with respect to the other two persons who were arrested.

Perez has said Bowie police see their main role as being highly visible in the community in order to deter crime. The department also wants to engage residents in crime-prevention methods.

Reflecting on the department’s first year, Perez and Nesky said they are getting positive feedback from the community.

‘‘The citizens say there is a difference between now and a year ago, and that shows we’re on the right track,” Nesky said.

In August, more than 1,000 people attended the department’s first National Night Out, a nationwide community outreach event police departments hold.

Bowie police were awarded a ‘‘Rookie of the Year” award by USAOnWatch, the organization that promotes National Night Out events nationally. Criteria for the award included overall effectiveness of the National Night Out, community and law enforcement involvement, promotional efforts, and the event’s uniqueness.

The officers have also attended meetings of the city’s Public Safety Committee, homeowners associations, neighborhood watch and other groups.

Officer Bennie Henderson, the department’s community liaison, attends many of the meetings.

‘‘He gets people educated about the importance of crime prevention and about keeping communities safer,” Perez said.

The city has also seen more than 10 new Neighborhood Watch groups formed or reorganized as a result of the department’s involvement, Nesky said.

‘‘Pretty much every week we get more requests,” he said.

Len Lucchi, a former member of the Citizens for Bowie Police and former chairman of the city’s Public Safety Committee, said the new department is doing a ‘‘wonderful job” of engaging the community. He said a police department representative has attended every Public Safety Committee meeting, which is held monthly, and has answered all of the members’ questions.

Officers also could be seen patrolling Bowie’s several commercial districts.

Kelly Pierce, executive director of the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce, said she has received positive feedback from businesses.

‘‘They’ve been very responsive to businesses from what I hear, as far as answering calls and coming and doing area checks,” she said.

Maj. Anita Rosser, who heads the county police department’s District 2 that provides police coverage of central Prince George’s, including Bowie, praised Perez’s anti-crime efforts. Rosser said county officers still work alongside Bowie officers.

‘‘We’re continuing to work [together]. More intelligence is gained by having more people on the street. I think people feel safer. It is a partnership,” she said.

Edith Boteler, who lives in the city’s B section, said she is happy to see the officers address speeding.

‘‘They’re in the neighborhood keeping an eye on traffic speeds,” she said. ‘‘As a mom, that’s really good to see.”

Resident Trish Reimer recalled interacting with a ‘‘very, very nice” Bowie officer who stopped by to talk to her and her two young children at a polling station in November.

Reimer said she also called police to her neighborhood weeks ago to retrieve a stolen vehicle.

‘‘From what I’ve seen, I think they’re doing a good job,” she said.

Department leaders are now focusing on their goals for 2008 and beyond, which include hiring more officers and having an investigator on staff.

The City Council also plans construction of a new, combined city hall and police department building at a projected cost of $31.5 million. The council says funding would be included in the fiscal 2010 budget.

As the department’s second year begins, Perez said she plans to step up patrols.

‘‘There’s more and more of us out there at any given time,” she said.

For Mayor G. Frederick Robinson, the department has done a very good job.

‘‘We have a high level of expectation about their performance, and so far I’m satisfied,” Robinson said.

E-mail Megan King at mking@gazette.net.