Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Community: Concerns go unheard by police

Department says new station will improve response

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Residents of the Barnaby Manor community in Oxon Hill are worried that they are not being heard by Prince George’s County police, said the Rev. Lonnie Henderson, president of the Barnaby Manor Citizens Association.

In the past six months, a body was found in an elementary school, an elderly woman was attacked by two dogs that still have not been located and a family was robbed at gunpoint in their driveway.

‘‘It’s not so much the question of crime itself, but the community’s relationship with the police department,” Henderson said. ‘‘[The police] don’t seem to be responsive to our needs in a timely manner.”

In fact, crime statistics in Prince George’s County Police District 4 show total crimes increased over the past year. There were 721 total incidents in September 2006 and a record-high 1,036 in September 2007.

Assistant commander Donald Frick of District 4 in Oxon Hill said help is on the way. Police performance in Oxon Hill is expected to improve when a new District 7 station opens by year’s end.

As many as 150 new sworn officers are scheduled to be posted at the $8 million Fort Washington station and cover 67 square miles, police officials say. There are 250 sworn officers currently assigned to District 4, which covers 82 square miles.

‘‘Basically, we will double our efforts, while the coverage area will be reduced,” Frick said.

‘‘We now have 23 miles to cover from one end of the police district to the other. Once District 7 comes on board, we are going to be able to keep the majority of our officers in the north.”

Police also introduced a Calls For Service initiative last month, instructing residents to call specific numbers for specific needs and giving out e-mail addresses in an effort to improve response times.

Sgt. Michelle Carter, supervisor of the Community Services Team, said the initiative’s goal is to better streamline calls for county service.

‘‘I am offering you the name of the person you can go to directly,” Carter said. ‘‘We want your complaints.”

Frick said crimes like theft and breaking and entering can be linked directly to a problem with school truancy in the area.

A recent state school board report said Potomac High School had the county’s highest truancy rate in the county at 26.26 percent last school year.

‘‘We have an intense truancy campaign going on at all the high schools,” Frick said. ‘‘We have doubled our efforts in the truancy area.”

Henderson and other civic leaders agreed police were visible with the anti-truancy campaign.

There is plenty of crime unrelated to high school truancy as well, Henderson said.

For example, the community was shocked when a body was recovered Oct. 9 from the Barnaby Manor Elementary School.

Police confirmed the body was found during the day, while classes were in progress. Frick said the homicide unit is still investigating the case, and the body has not yet been identified.

‘‘We are hoping for closure on it,” he said.

Shirley Lingebach, Barnaby Manor Citizens Association’s corresponding secretary, recalled another incident within just 10 days of the body’s discovery.

On Oct. 18, Lingebach said, Alice Stepherson, 75, a Temple Hills resident, was attacked by two dogs as she took a shortcut through the woods from Old Barnaby Road toward Wheeler Road.

Joshua Stepherson, the victim’s son, said neither the dogs nor the owner have been found.

Frick said police lodged an animal bite report and the case is being handled by animal control.

Henderson also said resident David Bailey and his family recently were robbed at gunpoint in the driveway of their Wheeler Road home. No arrests have been made.

Frick did say police have identified a suspect in the robbery and are taking steps toward an arrest.

Henderson, who has lived in the same Barnaby Manor home for 30 years, said police have not answered requests to patrol areas of concern and they have not regularly attended meetings to address residents’ fears.

‘‘For the past two years, we have been asking District 4 police to drive by the dead end at Leland Drive — behind Potomac High School — where residents are concerned about drug pushing,” he said.

‘‘We are not asking them to come every day — just after dusk on weekends or even a single day in the weekend. This is inexcusable.”