New Police District the Number One Topic at Public Safety Listening Session

Carla Peay | 10/20/2010, 12:34 p.m.

Presumptive County Executive-elect Rushern Baker Addressed Citizens Concerns

Carmel Weathers enjoys life in the rural tier, the southern-most part of Prince George's County, but is concerned about public safety in her neighborhood.

"We are a good 30 minutes from the police, and that's on a good day," Weathers said. A resident of Cedarhaven, Weathers is concerned about the lack of police patrols in her community.

"People ride past our houses at night. We're on our own down there," said Weathers, who counted among the hundreds of Prince George's County citizens who attended the first of three scheduled Listening Sessions sponsored by Democratic nominee for County Executive, Rushern Baker.

Baker has no Republican challenger in the general election, and will become the County Executive-elect following the General Election on Tue., Nov. 2.

Baker was joined by several other current and newly elected County officials at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro on Wed., Oct. 13 in a community forum designed to seek answers from the community about their priorities and concerns. One by one, citizens came to the microphone and told Baker and the other officials present exactly what those concerns were, and expressed their needs to have the problems fixed once the new administration takes office.

Taking center stage was the need for an additional police district in Southern Prince George's County. There are currently six police districts, and the need for police district 7 has been a topic of discussion in the County for several years, along with the need for additional police officers.

Community activist Catherine Taggart Ross, a retired D.C. police officer who lives in Clinton, expressed the need for the County to try and retain some of the officers eligible for retirement, and to facilitate a plan for veteran officers to train some of the younger officers on the force.

"For once, I attended a meeting with elected officials where they actually listened. They heard our questions; now I hope we will receive some answers," Taggart Ross said.

Also on the citizens' minds were issues that included:

* Adding a 311 call center to cut back on 911 calls
* Additional police patrol in high crime areas
* Addressing the infant mortality rate and other healthcare concerns

* Creating green jobs and clean energy programs
* Creating an effective Community Policing plan
* Adding facilities for youth activities

* Improving emergency preparedness
* Establishing a pro-active solution to domestic violence

"I thought the energy in the room was high. There was a very positive attitude in our elected officials and in the audience. I think we are starting off on the right foot," said Glenda Hodges, founder of Still I Rise, a community based empowerment organization for women in Clinton.

Hodges is the director of the Program in Spirituality and Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine, and is a well known champion of women who are survivors of domestic violence.

Hodges will be partnering with incoming District 9 County Councilman Mel Franklin on domestic violence issues.

"South County will have its voice heard when it comes to all issues of public safety," Franklin said. Also in attendance was the incoming State's Attorney, Angela Alsobrooks, who will become the first female State's Attorney in the County's history.

Alsobrooks stressed the importance of a partnership between the courts and law enforcement to reduce recidivism.

"I want to thank everyone who attended this meeting tonight, mostly on behalf of the people in this County who don't even know about this meeting. We have the ability to affect the lives of other people, especially our youth, and to keep them from becoming a part of the criminal justice system in the first place," Alsobrooks said.

With public safety and law enforcement emerging as one of the top priorities in the new administration, the cause will be helped by incoming Sheriff Melvin C. High, who formerly served as the Police Chief of Prince George's County, and has more than 40 years of law enforcement experience.

One of High's chief tasks will be addressing the issue of outstanding warrants, a hot button issue that became a major topic in the primary election for County Executive, as outgoing Sheriff Michael Jackson proved to be Baker's strongest challenger.

"Outstanding warrants are a serious issue, but many of them are not for violent crimes. Many are for traffic violations; many are for non residents. I will work with the other municipalities on a far reaching approach, and we will identify and serve warrants for those that present a real danger to our community," High said.

As the forum ended, Baker told the audience that the session was being recorded, and that all the questions and topics presented would receive full attention and consideration.

"This is one County," Baker said, "and we will speak with one voice."

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