Prince George’s County law enforcement, community leaders and health professionals offered recommendations to stop the violence during a recent forum in District Heights.
The more than four dozen people in attendance heard recommendations such as more parental involvement, money toward mental health services and empathy for fellow neighbors.
The county has had almost two dozen homicides since July, including three children found murdered Aug. 18 inside a home in Clinton.
“We’re not here to point fingers, or blame to anyone. We’re here to find solutions,” said former state Delegate Aisha Braveboy, who moderated the discussion.
Prince George’s Police Chief Hank Stawinski said the majority of the recent crimes involved people who knew each other. The county leads Maryland in domestic violence homicides.
Despite the recent spike in homicides, burglaries and robberies, he said overall crime has decreased by 50 percent the past seven years.
“From a fear perspective, I certainly empathized with the concern we see when we deal with these issues,” Stawinski said during the forum. “I’m asking for the community’s support for the men and women who are out there on your behalf. We need collaboration.”
District Heights Police Chief Elliott Gibson provided some tips on works in his city of slightly more than 6,000 people, including:
• transparency with the police department;
• data collection; and
• communication between city agencies, police and residents.
“I want to keep the line of communication open,” said Gibson, who’s received calls from residents on his cellphone at 3 a.m. “If someone who sees something, or hears something, you can reach out and tell me what’s going on.”
Another group spoke about helping teenagers and young adults with mental health challenges and divert them from the criminal justice system.
Natosha Speight, a psychologist who works with at-risk youth and young adults at the Maya Angelou Academy in the New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Laurel, said the two keys to encourage young people: “Be patient” and consistently say, “I will not give up on you.”
“Every young person is an individual and you have to treat each young person as an individual … and [not] judge them all the same,” she said after the nearly two-hour forum.
Community leaders also talked about various programs they conduct with young people.
Renada Johnson, executive director of Kiamsha Youth Empowerment Organization, said youth meet every Monday from 7-9 p.m. at Largo High School.
According to the organization’s website, its mission is to help students in grades eight through 12 to “use history, peer and intergenerational interaction to empower youth to abstain from premarital sex, drugs, violence and prejudice.”
Several attendees such as Tyrese Richardson of Mount Rainier asked questions and offered comments.
Richardson said one private, social media app called Nextdoor allows neighbors to connect with each other. She said this could enhance more community involvement, especially for those afraid to call authorities.
“There’s the whole culture of, ‘snitches get stitches,'” she said. “There’s some other ways we can reinvigorate a watch programCommunities need to feel empowered when fighting crime.”