A police substation on Ellsworth Drive is just one of the alternatives to a curfew we have. Councilmember Phil Andrews (D-Rockville), so far the strongest opponent of Montgomery County Executive Leggett's proposed teen curfew, has a sharp, insightful op-ed in the Gazette today:
Police officers have many tools to maintain order, including laws against harassment, public drunkenness, disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct. In communities where crime is a problem, such as downtown Silver Spring, the county has added police officers. The County Council recently approved 28 additional officers for the Third Police District, including 12 more for downtown Silver Spring. The county also should pursue federal grants to fund surveillance cameras in problem areas, as County Police Chief Tom Manger proposes, and continue to deploy the Police Community Action Team to bolster police presence where needed . . . The council should reject Leggett’s proposal for a permanent youth curfew — a proposal which falsely signals that crime and youth in the County are out of control, when crime is actually down and the overwhelming majority of youth are law-abiding.I don't know why people aren't more outraged that Police Chief Thomas Manger and County Executive Leggett has worked so hard to change the perception of Montgomery teens from overachieving honor students to remorseless criminals. Or that the provost of Montgomery College, who presumably works with young people every day, would compare youth crime in MoCo to the Great Fire of Rome. So that's why we have Councilmember Andrews, always the voice of reason, telling the rabble-rousers to calm down. He's totally right in saying that the county has many alternatives, and many more effective alternatives, to a curfew. Lt. Carter of the police department's Silver Spring district, gave me a list of eleven crime-fighting tools, ranging from gang prevention programs to a greater police presence. The most intriguing idea he offered was opening a police substation on Ellsworth Drive. Currently, the Third District police station, which covers downtown Silver Spring and most of East County, is on Sligo Avenue, six long blocks away. In a few years, the station will move to White Oak, several miles away. A police substation on Ellsworth would put police officers in the heart of the action, allowing them to see what's going on firsthand and respond as quickly as possible. It would also allow the public to have regular, positive interactions with police officers, building a relationship. Go to Ellsworth today and you can already see security guards hired by the Peterson Companies (the folks who brought you the Downtown Silver Spring complex) reaching out to customers, answering questions and palling around with teenagers. A police substation would give visitors another place to ask questions and seek help in case of an emergency. As a result, people will begin to trust and respect these authority figures. Not to say there won't still be problems (see this video of a Peterson security guard arguing with a kid who then threatens the guard) but this would be a step in the right direction. Besides staffing, all a police substation needs is space, and very little at that. One former substation was a 400-square-foot, single-wide trailer in the parking lot at Briggs Chaney Plaza. The Downtown Silver Spring complex alone has three vacancies, not including the soon-to-be-closed Borders, totaling 12,000 square feet. But space is expensive. The average rent for retail space in Silver Spring is $26/square foot. Yet if Leggett is truly serious about reducing crime, he should be willing to find the funds to open a police substation on Ellsworth. Or perhaps Peterson can provide a space for a discounted fee. They, along with the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, have come out in support of the curfew. It's in their company's best interest to create a safe, vibrant environment on Ellsworth Drive. Surely, reducing the rent of a small storefront on Ellsworth would be worth the investment. Like Councilmember Andrews said, there are lots of good kids in Montgomery County. Rather than vilifying them, we should be trying to work with them to make this county a stronger place. Having a greater police presence in downtown Silver Spring is the first step to creating a constructive relationship with this constituency, rather than antagonizing them with a curfew.