Keeping East County in the safety loop
New initiatives will make residents aware of crime trends
Since the start of community safety meetings last fall to get East County police and residents on the same page, police officials have increased their outreach, sending weekly crime notifications, pushing for neighborhood watch organizations and designing "East County's Most Wanted" fliers to hang in businesses.
As Montgomery County faces a police shortage, officials are launching these new initiatives to recruit residents as the eyes and ears of East County crime.
Organized by Lt. Stephen D'Ovidio, the deputy district commander for White Oak and Briggs Chaney, and Joy Nurmi, director of the East County Regional Services Center, the initiatives are seen as a valuable tool to increase 911 calls, catch criminals and keep neighborhoods safe. The county's police force currently has 1,169 active officers, fewer than the 1,183 the county is authorized, according to spokesman Cpl. Dan Friz. Of those 1,169, roughly 40 are injured or on light duty, and several more have recently retired, he said.
"The more you get people informed, they might have heard something or know something," D'Ovidio said. "... It keeps people at ease and at least in-the-know about what's going on."
The regional services center started sending out weekly crime updates several weeks ago via listservs as a way to get crime information to residents quicker. Previously, residents could get the same information, though delayed by a week, through the media department of police headquarters, Nurmi said. Now D'Ovidio and his staff have taken on the responsibility to keep people informed.
Since the first weekly update went out, several other neighborhoods have asked to be included in the listserv, Nurmi said.
Fliers with East County's six most-wanted criminals will be distributed via listservs, community meetings and in business storefronts over the next couple weeks, D'Ovidio said. Neighborhood watch meetings have also been organized, but D'Ovidio said few have gotten off the ground so far because of the level of commitment required. To establish a successful neighborhood watch, each housing development needs a dedicated captain who gets regular updates from residents, police have said in past training sessions. Most residents have opted instead to participate in community meetings discussing concerns and crime trends in the police area, which includes White Oak and Briggs Chaney.
Tuesday night marked the first evening police-sector meeting, where D'Ovidio, members of the county gang unit and other safety enforcement officials planned to meet with residents to hear their concerns. D'Ovidio also said he planned to cover year-to-date crime statistics for the sector, saying most crime areas are down.
Comparing January to February 2009 against January to February 2010, D'Ovidio said, "I'm looking at some numbers, and I'm very happy." Though part of the drop can be attributed to inclement weather, he said robberies are down from 28 to 19, and burglaries are down from 53 to 36.
D'Ovidio said he personally hasn't been seeing a direct increase in calls from concerned residents, but said the police-sector meetings are bringing some issues to the surface. Nurmi said the regional services center has seen an increase in crime and safety-related calls, which she then passes along to D'Ovidio.
"This is a synergistic type of effort, that once we start this, people will start getting more involved, communities will get involved, people will step up," Nurmi said of the mindset behind increasing community outreach. "... That's exactly what's happening. People get involved because we started to reach out."
Crime comparison, January-February 2009 vs. January-February 2010
-Robberies are down from 28 to 19
-Burglaries are down from 53 to 36
-Commercial and school burglaries are down from 11 to 4
-Thefts from vehicles are down from 83 to 55
-Stolen vehicles are down from 37 to 31
-Aggravated assaults stayed even at four