Without more police officers patrolling the streets, Montgomery County will be unprepared to handle future growth, Police Chief Thomas Manger told the county council last Thursday.
The police force needs to add officers on the streets and increase special response teams to keep up with the county’s pace of growth, Manger told the Montgomery County Council Public Safety Committee.
As Montgomery County has developed with a growing population, the county police department has had to adapt to what Manger calls a more urban style of policing and desperately needs more officers. While patrolling rural areas of the county is usually sufficient with just officers in cars, higher density has meant putting more officers on bike or on foot in more populated areas. If police staffing remains at its current level, the county will be unprepared to handle future growth, Manger said.
"As we see more and more central business districts become more and more vibrant in this county, and it's not just Silver Spring— it's Wheaton, it's Germantown, it's Rockville, [it's White Flint]— all of these things require an urban style of policing," Manger said. "I will tell you we are not staffed to do that, to handle that."
The King sector in Wheaton is next on the police chief's target list for higher staffing. While downtown Silver Spring is still the busiest area for police, and the Ida sector is number 2, "King 1 and King 2" are No. 3 and No. 4. "If you combine them, they'd be No. 1," Manger said. He added that the King sector needs a 24/7 police presence, which could mean an increase of 16-18 officers.
"The King Sector needs what the Ida sector got, and that's a significant investment," Manger said.
, and all sections within the department are feeling the strain. At 1.19 sworn officers to every 1,000 residents, the county is far below the national average of 2.7 officers per every 1,000 residents.
County staffing numbers receive a little boost from the municipalities of Rockville, Takoma Park, Chevy Chase and Gaithersburg, which bring the county ratio of sworn officers per 1,000 residents to 1.38. That is still not enough, according to Manger, who said the necessary solution is a combined effort of adding more officers where needed and increasing the flexibility of the force.
"We've identified certain areas of the county that are long-term areas that have had more criminal activity then we'd want to see,” Manger said. “I want to assign more police officers to some of those high crime areas permanently."
While downtown Silver Spring is still the busiest area for police, robberies in Wheaton are up by 20 percent, and Germantown, with its growing business district, is starting to see a increase in criminal activity.
Meanwhile, the more quiet areas of the county like Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac have seen recent spikes in burglaries and home invasions. who have begun to call in to question the county’s ability to handle the issue.
Manger says the county needs to increase staffing to increase the police force’s flexibility.
"This department is not staffed to be able to react to spikes like that without robbing Peter to pay Paul –without moving resources where they really are being used,” he said. "When you talk about burglaries in the second district you need more than six officers for people to notice and for the bad guys to notice and for us to really have an impact.”
In addition to permanently raising staff levels in certain areas, Manger said he wants to reduce from two to one the county-wide police-community action teams and then add a P-CAT unit to each district. P-CAT units are sent to at-risk neighborhoods to conduct concentrated patrolling for a 90-day time period.
"If each district station had their own community action team, this would be, in my view, a band-aid, a down payment on having impact everywhere in this county," he said.
The Montgomery County Police Department had made up 15 percent of the county’s total budget in recent years, even with the millions in cutbacks it's seen since the recession started. The county allotted $232.4 million of the county operating budget to the department for fiscal year 2012, and the police chief and the county executive continue to discuss the county’s staffing needs for FY13.
The last time Manger put together a staffing plan for the department, it called for the addition of 250 officers over five years. Now, he would ideally like a plan even higher than that, but recognizes that county pockets remain tight.
"The county executive has asked for a staffing plan, so I think that he recognizes and he has a desire to increase resources to the police department, so I'm hopeful that we're going to have at least some ability to do it in next year's budget."
Councilmembers at the meeting sympathized with Manger, but said that FY13 would continue to be a tight budget year and it would be difficult to meet every need he outlined.
"We know you would like to have more officers in particular areas, and if money were no object we would all say yes without hesitation," said Committee Chairman Phil Andrews, (D-Dist. 3). "But we are not out of the woods yet budgetarily."