Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Chief says county is ‘winning’ crime war

High announces that crime was down overall in 2007; warns that slow economy could spur increase

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Police Chief Melvin C. High announced Wednesday that crime in Prince George’s was down overall last year – except for homicides – and said the county is succeeding in the fight against crime.

‘‘Everybody likes to win, and we are winning,” High said at a news conference at police headquarters in Palmer Park.

High credited the decrease in crime to the addition of more than 300 officers in recent years, devoted patrols in problem areas along the Washington border and ‘‘hard work.”

There were 141 homicides in the county last year, compared to 134 in 2006. Of the homicides, 112 were shot and the same number were black male victims, High said. About 80 percent of the killings also took place near the county’s border with Washington.

High blamed the homicide increase on ‘‘the nexus of guns and drugs” in border areas.

For years, county and municipal police departments have shared information and patrols in efforts to cut down on crime.

High said the county is considering hiring more detectives for the county’s homicide investigation unit and forensics offices. There are currently about 60 detectives tasked to investigate all unexplained deaths in the county.

High said the two divisions are ‘‘critical areas.”

Despite the 5.6 percent increase in killings, High said the department has made gains overall in combating crime. There have been eight homicides in the county since Jan. 1.

The police department did not have exact figures on other crimes as of press time. However, they said violent crimes such as homicides, rapes, robberies and carjackings fell overall by 7.3 percent compared to 2006, and property crimes like car thefts, shoplifting and burglaries dropped slightly by 1.4 percent.

‘‘We’ve stayed true to the strategies we’ve outlined and worked hard to implement,” he said. ‘‘The men and women of this department don’t get too comfortable, and we have taken failure off the table.”

High declined to give examples of specific strategies that the department has implemented.

‘‘That just advises the criminal out there in a way we don’t want to inform them,” he said.

The current police force has 1,500 officers. Another 98 officers should be added by June, High said.

At the press conference, County Executive Jack B. Johnson said the county plans to hire at least 150 new officers in the upcoming budget year that begins in July.

‘‘We are going to continue to see the growth in this police department, across the board,” Johnson said.

Still, High warned that economic downturns could cause an increase in crime in 2008.

‘‘It will inevitably show in the community,” he said. ‘‘But economically tough times won’t be moving this agency.”

E-mail Daniel Valentine at dvalentine@gazette.net.

Crime trends in 2007

County Police said crime dropped in nearly everycategory last year.

Homicide:Up 5.6 percent

Rape:Down 0.5 percent

Robbery:Down 3.9 percent

Carjacking:Down 29 percent

Motor Vehicle Theft:Down 8.7 percent

Source: Prince George’s CountyPolice Department