Montgomery County executive announces plan to increase police staffing -- Gazette.Net



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This story was updated on March 9, 2012.

Despite reductions in crime reported this year, county officials announced Wednesday plans to expand staffing for the Montgomery County Police Department.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said Wednesday during a meeting in Montgomery Village to discuss public safety, that his proposed operating budget for the coming fiscal year will include a significant, but unspecified increase for police personnel. Leggett is expected to release his budget March 15.

The announcement came even as police report strides in reducing crime overall, a trend Leggett said he hopes to continue by adding officers.

“That’s not the measure I would like us to be judged by,” he said. “...The objective is to get it down as much as possible.”

The staffing level for county police is one of the lowest in the state at 1.19 officers per 1,000 residents as of December, according to a January report for the Montgomery County Council’s Public Safety Committee. The nationwide average in 2008 was 2.5 officers per 1,000 residents. Baltimore County is the highest at 2.31 officers per 1,000 residents and Anne Arundel County the lowest at 1.18 per 1,000 residents. The department had 1,159 officers in December.

Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said he will be focused on where these new officers will be stationed when considering Leggett’s proposal. He pointed to the 2007 assertion by the International Association of Chiefs of Police that staffing ratios to population should not be used to determine staffing levels for police departments.

Andrews said any increase in personnel should be justified by deploying them to high-crime areas, not just increasing patrols or support staff overall.

“I’ll be looking for targeted solutions to targeted problems,” he said.

Police funding has accounted for 15 percent of the county government’s total operating fund since 2009. In 2008, it was 14 percent of the total budget. Between 2011 and 2012, the police budget rose almost $2 million to $232.4 million of the $1.6 billion the county spends on government operations.

Personnel figures contrast with the county’s relative crime rates, which shows that Montgomery saw 22.37 Part I crimes — the most serious, which include homicides and rapes — per 1,000 residents in 2010, compared to Baltimore County’s 35.14 per 1,000 residents in that same time period.

Other police benchmarks have improved over the past few years. Closure rates for homicides and rapes have both risen since 2007 from 80 percent to 88 percent, according to county reports. Response times for emergency calls dropped from 7.14 minutes in 2006 to a projected 7.0 in 2012.

Claudette Lease, a resident of northwest Montgomery Village said she was still worried about Leggett’s decision to postpone the construction of a new 6th District police station in Montgomery Village. The 6th District station is temporarily housed on Watkins Mill Road in Gaithersburg.

Jillian Murry, a village resident, said despite reassurances that crime is trending down overall, she still often feels unsafe.

“It can be scary when something happens in your neighborhood,” she said.

The CVS Pharmacy on Montgomery Village Avenue was robbed at gunpoint three times between November and December. Police said in a January release that they do not believe the same person is responsible for all three. In December, two men robbed the nearby Denny’s restaurant with a handgun.

Leggett said his proposal will include increased staffing for the 6th District in particular.

By the end of last year, crime in the 6th District decreased overall by more than 9 percent, with burglaries dropping the most; from 40 in 2010 to 30 the following year, according to Montgomery County Police Department statistics. Robberies did increase during that time, from 10 in 2010 to 16 in 2011 .

Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, who requested more officers at the January Public Safety Committee meetings, said Wednesday that the best way to fight crime is with more police officers. He said the response to the robberies in the village will include temporarily supplementing the 6th District station with officers from other parts of the county.

“We’ve needed it for a long time and it will have an impact on the area,” he said.

aruoff@gazette.net