Seat Pleasant Police Chief Chris Cotillo said that after a 28-year career with the Prince George’s County Police Department, becoming chief in the city in October was a bit like returning home.
“I grew up in Prince George’s; I graduated from Central High School, and I’ve always had family and friends in Seat Pleasant,” Cotillo said. “So, it’s like my life has come full circle.”
Cotillo and new Capitol Heights Police Chief Anthony Ayers, another county native who was sworn in Nov. 26, both said they want to use their ties to their municipalities to pursue community policing and improve residents’ quality of life.
Ayers, 46, who had served as acting chief in Capitol Heights since May, said his upbringing in the Peppermill Village community and his 20 years of experience in the county police department, primarily as a Community-Oriented Policing Squad officer, give him a unique perspective to reduce crime in a “holistic” fashion.
“I understand the needs of this community,” Ayers said. “... I want to address those quality-of-life issues that cause crime.”
Ayers said that since May, he has instituted a Joint Agency Group program, where the city’s 11-member force coordinates with other city and county agencies, such as code enforcement and the Department of Social Services, to visit “problem homes” at the same time.
“We all come in our cars at the same time, and it makes it easier for the various agencies because they’re more comfortable doing their job with the police around,” Ayers said. “It’s kind of like ‘shock and awe’ because we come with so many agencies, so the residents or property owners end up making any required changes quicker.”
Ayers said he subscribes to the theory that well-kept neighborhoods deter crime, so he has also put programs in place to encourage people to keep their lawns mowed and remove broken-down vehicles from driveways and yards.
According to county crime statistics for the city, the programs appear to be working. As of Nov. 1, violent crime this year was down 43.2 percent from 2011, and overall crime was down 32.5 percent from last year, topping countywide violent crime trends, which, as of November, were down 7.3 percent from 2011.
Alice Payne, vice president of the Brooke Road, Rollins Avenue and Walker Mill Road Civic Association in the city, said she was encouraged by Ayers’ willingness to listen to residents’ needs and said he has demonstrated openness to new ideas.
“He’s already walked the streets and talked to the neighbors to see what their issues are,” Payne said. “We not only want police present in the community but respecting the community.”
Although Cotillo, who retired from the county police department, serving most recently as the commander of the District 2 station in Upper Marlboro in June, hasn’t had as much time to implement new policies, many of his initiatives have similar goals.
Cotillo, who declined to provide his age, said he is getting his 12 municipal officers to coordinate with city code enforcement and nuisance abatement to deal with problem houses and quality-of-life issues.
“We’re already going through the city, and when we notice high grass and weeds, we send residents pictures and say, ‘You need to fix this,’” Cotillo said.
Cotillo said he also is changing the department’s scheduling from permanent shifts to rotating shifts so that some officers are not always working evening and graveyard shifts, which he said will encourage better interaction with residents.
“[The permanent shift] creates bad habits,” he said. “Officers can become anti-social. Late-night officers don’t get to interact with the community.”
Although Cotillo was not able to provide detailed crime statistics by press time, he said crime has been “mostly flat” in Seat Pleasant compared with previous years.
Seat Pleasant City Council President Kelly Porter (at-large) said the city is pleased with the way Cotillo has “hit the ground running.”
“He’s doing great so far,” Porter said. “He will be held to account for what he’s charged with doing, but his contacts [with county police and other agencies] weighed very heavily in our decision to appoint him, and he’s starting work on a foot patrol program that we want.”