“Wheaton is not a dangerous place,” said Fourth District Police Commander John Damskey at the first meeting of the Wheaton Public Safety Work Group on Nov. 19. “But the perception is horrible," he added.
The new Wheaton Public Safety Work Group is tasked with finding ways of “improving public safety, quality of life, and perceptions of downtown Wheaton as it relates to revitalization efforts."
At the Nov. 19 meeting, attendees talked about the changes Wheaton has undergone. They also discussed improving appearance and safety in Wheaton with more street lights, cameras at pay stations and median landscaping.
In an Aug. 8 memorandum, Montgomery County councilmembers Hans Riemer (D–At Large) and Nancy Navarro (D-District 4) outlined the work group's purpose, which includes following through on recommendations presented by the Wheaton Public Safety Audit Task Force in 2004.
The group aims to bring together different segments of the Wheaton community: Mid-County Regional Services director Ana Lopez van Balen, members of the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Board and the Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee, Fourth District police, representatives from Montgomery County public schools and parent-teacher associations, Wheaton residents and business owners and representatives from neighborhood civic associations.
Van Balen explained at the meeting that, even though Wheaton is an urban community, it is not fraught with crime. One attendee remarked how she felt that crime is increasing because she has been reading more about it on the news.
Commander Damskey responded that it is a result of pushing out information to the public, successfully solving crimes and apprehending criminals.
“The access of information has been great,” he said, “but crime is not."
He added, "We solve more crimes than any other district and that is a direct result of our team. We monitor the quality of life and take complaints very seriously.”
But the issue of perception still needs to be addressed, he said.
The group is hoping to work with residents and business owners in Wheaton to talk about the changes and help with this issue.
“Our biggest challenge is our residents,” van Balen said. “We need them to be the champions of Wheaton.”
The group will hold its future meetings on the third Monday of each month. Their next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 17.