Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Police consider advisory board

Silver Spring's Third District is the only county station without such a group

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Police in Silver Spring's Third District station are considering whether to form a residents advisory board that would meet regularly with police to discuss local crime issues.

All other police districts in Montgomery County maintain active police boards, which typically meet monthly to discuss crime trends and specific incidents as a way to promote communication between police and residents.

Third District commander Capt. Donald Johnson said the Silver Spring station regularly communicates with concerned citizens by sending officers to various community meetings sponsored by residents associations or the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. Only recently have they considered forming a police advisory board, he said.

"We're putting feelers out to the community members," Johnson said. "… I think it's a good thing to do if there was an interest in the community."

Several community leaders interviewed said they were receptive to the idea. Third District police actively communicate and maintain positive relations with residents, they said, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.

"Certainly, the police have been pretty responsive," said Phil Olivetti, a member of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. "But anything that would make it more of a regularized fashion I think would be helpful."

Darian Unger, chairman of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, said police regularly attend the board's transportation and neighborhood committee meetings, but said those are mostly attended by board members. A standing police board could give all residents the opportunity to voice concerns to police, he said.

"The police are responsive to the community when they hear our concerns, and therefore anything we can do to facilitate that communication is great," Unger said. "…We're very excited about [the idea] because we think it will be helpful."

Earlier this month, Germantown's Fifth District Police Commander Capt. Thomas Didone credited that district's police advisory board with providing background information that led to the arrest of a suspect in the slaying of a 23-year-old Silver Spring man along a park trail.

Johnson said he believes police in Silver Spring are equally in touch with residents and receive necessary information.

"Everybody knows everybody and communicates with everyone," he said. "Our monthly meetings that we attend, there is a lot of information exchanges there."

Evan Glass, a Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board member and president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association, said police have done a "good job" of attending meetings and said they should being looking at other ways to improve communication.

"We already do have plenty of meetings with the different officers from the many county and civic groups that are at these meetings," he said.

Glass said some residents would benefit from an investment in "real time" crime updates, possibly online, that could let people know about situations as they unfold.

Johnson said he too had reservations about how effective a board that met once a month might be in the age of up-to-the minute Internet communication.

"Now with e-mail, we converse weekly, sometimes daily on issues," he said.

Olivetti pointed out, however, that regular face-to-face interactions could be preferable for some residents, especially those without e-mail.

"For people who aren't on a listserv, then they miss out on that communication," he said.

Johnson said any resident with an interest in forming or joining a Third District police board could call the station at 301-565-7740.

"We are very involved with the community," Johnson said, "and I don't think we're at any disadvantage now."