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Public Safety Group Aims to Address Wheaton Crime Perception

At its first meeting, the new Wheaton Public Safety Work Group discussed how to counteract damaging perceptions about crime in Wheaton.

“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.

Commentous November 27, 2012 at 11:54 AM
"We solve more crimes than any other district and that is a direct result of our team." Are you saying that the armed robberies and aggravated assaults are just as common in the other areas statistically? In just one week last month (October 15-22) our area had six armed robberies and three residential burglaries. Are the number of armed robberies and aggravated assaults about the same across the county? I think it's fair to say that people are concerned about not just the perception of crime, but about the amount of armed robberies, aggravated assaults, and residential burglaries in Wheaton. Those crimes are not the same as someone breaking into your car and stealing something you left in it (which has happened to me in Wheaton). And, lastly, loitering isn't going to attract people to the area or make it seem better. People who do not appear to be taking Metro anytime soon are often hanging out at the entrance. People sometimes are hanging out at parking lots of 7-11s. They may not be committing crimes when hanging out, but they add to a negative perception of Wheaton.
TaL November 27, 2012 at 02:17 PM
You could easily fix the perception of crime in Wheaton if you did two things 1. Crack down on the money laundering storefronts (I mean upstanding wire your money/cash your check contributors to the LEDC) 2. Stop using Wheaton as the low-income housing dumping ground (I mean all those fine residents of the multiple HOC and MHC owned properties who's cultural need is to litter and loiter)
Rachel Young November 27, 2012 at 02:49 PM
I don't know why people are always freakin' out about crime in Wheaton. It exists, but the instances of crime are highly publicized and promoted (i.e. not tolerated). I agree with van Balen's suggestion that residents need to be "champions of Wheaton." That means venturing out and being a positive, constructive presence in the community. Not just avoiding people that make you uncomfortable.
Commentous November 27, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Rachel, I have lived in Wheaton for more than 11 years and venture out to local businesses regularly. I buy things unnecessarily at some local businesses just to help them out. I also try to use local businesses when having work done on my house that I can't do personally. That has nothing to do with the issue of whether violent crime is actually higher statistically around Wheaton than around other areas. Wheaton has a lot going for it, but it also has things going against it, including both the fact of violent crime and residential burglaries and the perception of such. We've never been the victim of violent crime. The worst we've had was a brick through the window to steal items from our locked car. I do not think that Wheaton is crime-ridden, but it's also not Shangri-La. That's in Bethesda: http://shangrilaus.com/.
Randall Spadoni November 27, 2012 at 03:32 PM
If you look at the Montgomery County crime statistics at http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/poltmpl.asp?url=/content/pol/media/crimestats.asp, in quarter 1 of 2012 Wheaton had the second highest number of crimes per population after Silver Spring. Wheaton did also appear to have the highest number of arrests per crime of the districts (except for Rockville, which calculates it statistics differently). I don't know if you can do this but if you compare the number of arrests to the number of crimes, Wheaton had an arrest/crime rate of about 18%. When we moved to the Wheaton area last year, we compared crime rates to our previous neighborhood of Columbia Heights and Wheaton had about one quarter of the crime. It doesn't seem like an unsafe neighborhood to us and we're often out with our kids walking around the neighborhood at night.
Mike Smith November 27, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Wheaton's crime issue is more perception than reality. The 2004 report http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/Content/DGS/Dir/OPD/resources/publicsafetyreport.pdf says that downtown Wheaton had the same rate of violent crime as the rest of Montgomery County at that time, however public drunkenness is much higher in Wheaton. I have frequented either alone or with my wife many downtown Wheaton establishments over the years including Los Cabanos, Panda Wok, Wong Gee, Pollo Rico, Riverside Lounge, Jose's Grill, Nava Thai, Limerick, Royal Mile Pub, Showcase Aquarium, Marchones, Saigonese, and many more over the years and have never had a problem.
Commentous November 27, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I agree that the neighborhoods are fine. The strip malls, Wheaton mall parking lot, and commercial businesses downtown seem to have a disproportionate amount of crime, especially at night. As for crime statistics, they don't tell us much unless we also know the number of residents covered in each police district. I'm not saying they can't be useful, but it seems that we'd really need that information. By the way, I think the police do an excellent job, but I assume we'd all rather have less crime than a high arrest record.
Commentous November 27, 2012 at 07:58 PM
I admittedly overstated the issue with the term "strip mall." Some strip malls are frequented by many people of all backgrounds, while others have only a few successful businesses anymore besides alcohol sales. For the record, here's the current site for the police department, including crime statistics: http://www.mymcpnews.com/crime-statistics/quarterly-crime-stats/. Compared to 2011, Wheaton's statistics for the first 3 quarters of 2012 show 10-16% decreases in burglary, auto theft, and robbery offset by both a 63% increase in aggravated assaults and a slight larceny increase. (As of September 30, there were more aggravated assaults than in all of 2011.) The number of arrests for larceny, burglary, and robbery has increased considerably, from 262 (of 2206) to 351 (of 2198). Of these 351 arrests, larceny accounts for 221 (of 1706), burglary 83 (of 369), and robbery 47 (of 123). Arrests for aggravated assault went from 31 (of 92) to 32 (of 150). Overall the number of these "Part I" crimes (including murder and rape too) are about the same as last year with an increase in arrests from 301 (of 2492) in 2011 to 389 (of 2520) in 2012. Compared to 5 years ago, Wheaton has far less of these "Part 1" crimes overall, which is a good thing. Let's hope that the overall number of violent crimes decreases, especially as more people may come to the area to live, work, and shop. And thank you to the County police, who have always done excellent work.
Icedcoffee November 27, 2012 at 09:46 PM
We have lived in Wheaton for 19 years and I agree that the perception doesn't match the reality. There are so many benefits to living here, including all the small businesses (Dusit was our favorite, still can't believe it closed) that are around. Although there are some areas that are more problematic than others, I would like to see Wheaton portrayed as the great place it is 99% of the time.
Randall Spadoni November 27, 2012 at 10:29 PM
to Commentous, I did base my comment on crime incidence (crimes per population) using these population figures: http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/redistricting/Handouts/adjmoco_adjpop.pdf. In 2011, Silver Spring had a violent crime rate of about 2.4 crimes per 1,000 population. In Wheaton, it was 2.0 crimes per 1,000 population. The other districts were Rockville (1.1), Germantown (1.0), and Bethesda (0.5). Compare this with the booming Columbia Heights area of Washington, DC, which in 2010 had a rate of 13.0 violent crimes per 1,000 population. Even Georgetown had a violent crime rate of 5.0, more than twice the rate of Wheaton. If you include burglary, larceny, and auto theft, the rate in Wheaton was 18 crimes per 1,000 population, with the vast majority of that as larceny (taking of property outside of a building).
Commentous November 27, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Italianboy--Thanks for the information, Unfortunately, I think those are the County Council districts because there are only 5 listed, and those 5 don't match the 6 police districts. I'm not sure if there's information on the internet about the populations within each police district.
TaL November 28, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Dusit closed? What? when did that happen.... now I feel out of the loop...
Randall Spadoni November 28, 2012 at 05:03 AM
Whoops. You're absolutely right. Sorry. I can't find population data for the police districts. I found a site that shows a violent crime rate of 4.6 per 1,000 population for Wheaton/Glenmont (http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/md/wheaton-glenmont/crime/). That rate is more of a mixed picture but still about 1/3 the rate of Columbia Heights.
Mr. M November 28, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Tell this to our clients who were assaulted last week.
Icedcoffee November 29, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Yes, Dusit closed at the end of October. According to a review on Yelp, it was still open at the beginning of October. Not sure what happened...we will miss it.
Icedcoffee November 29, 2012 at 12:26 AM
That's very unfortunate and I am sorry to hear this. I don't think we are saying there's NO crime, but that the perception doesn't match the reality. Unless there's a great deal of unreported crime...
Avocado November 29, 2012 at 03:16 PM
It says "They also discussed improving appearance and safety in Wheaton with more street lights, cameras at pay stations and median landscaping." I think what is really needed is more cross walks, wider sidewalks, and pedestrian signals that activate automatically instead of with that old fashioned button. We need to get more people of all economic classes walking around Wheaton in order for it to feel vibrant and healthy. People can walk from their houses to restaurants, stores, etc. Why don't they do it more?
Yaman Shalabi November 30, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Nicolle These were only some of the changes that have been put in place. It is by no means an exhaustive list. Other recommendations and implementations included: median barriers and providing a more pedestrian friendly environment among others.

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