Thursday, September 8, 2011

councilmember andrews seeks curfew alternatives (and a look at one)

Ellsworth Drive Is Alive (I Saw No Emo Kids)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.


M Reese said...

As a high school teacher I find curfews infurating. Why should a few bad apples (less then 5% of kids) ruin everything for all kids.
Also everyone always cites Silver Spring as why we need a curfew. Again if there are issues in Silver Spring they should be delt with but localy within that community. Teens accross the county should not be penalized for the actions of 5% of teens in one community.

Patrick said...

A police substation in the heart of revitialized Silver Spring? Would that make it official that Silver Spring has a crime problem? And wouldn't that badly hurt the perception of the area?

I think this has the potential to be a catastrophically bad idea.

Two bad ideas don't make a good one.

~Patrick Thornton

jag2923 said...

Yeah, I definitely think a police substation is a bad idea (and think all 3 of those vacant listings are occupied/spoken for as well - dry cleaners, CakeLove, and new Japanese steakhouse).

So long as Silver Spring crime is going down 6-8% a year (even during hard economic times), I definitely don't think the county needs to worry about adding substations or curfews. Cops on bikes is a great idea that I hope will continue, but in general I think DTSS is on the right path, despite what the fear mongering few would have us believe.

Woody Brosnan said...

woody brosnan wrote,

Let's give credit to County Executive Ike Leggett for proposing the 28 additional officers for the Third District, and to the Council for approving that part of his budget.

We need officers on the street, not an office with a sign. A police substation on Ellsworth would be an expensive showpiece. Peterson already has a security office there. There is nothing that police officers can do in a substation that they can't do now from a police cruiser, including filing reports. We do need a pubic system of video surveillance cameras to supplement private cameras in downtown SS and we need a teen center in Silver Spring too.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

Putting a police substation in DTSS is a great idea. On the weekends, it's common to see police cars parked cross-wise on the ends of Elsworth, as if a riot could break out any moment. Give them an office from which to work and a chance to be seen as a friendly, more participatory presence in the area. Park the cars in spaces somewhere and have the cops walk around. Talk with the old guys playing chess. Say hi to the Moms with kids running through the fountain. Mosey around pleasantly.

The article refers to DTSS as an area with a crime problem. Is it really? I don't see it on a day to day basis and I'm out and about in DTSS every day. I work and live here and go to the restaurants and movies at least once or twice a week. Yes, there have been things happen, but it's not common. I see the clusters of kids and, even as a middle aged woman, haven't felt threatened by them. (I'm not thrilled when I have to jump out of the way of a skateboarder, but that's another issue.)

I'm torn over the idea of a curfew. Frankly, the guidelines laid out in it are something that most families follow anyway. Why should kids be out at that hour on a school night, except in exceptional circumstances (an event, for instance)? I know that curfews can be abused or capriciously enforced. When I was in H.S. in PG County in the late 70's, one of my friends got picked up on a curfew violation when she drove her mother to the school bus lot early in the morning. Her mom's car had broken down and Mom needed a ride to work. That shouldn't be a violation, but if you get a cop in a bad mood it could be. I do see the value of having a tool for the police to break up crowds of kids that they see as becoming too wild.

I just don't know how I feel aobut the curfew. As a grouchy old lady, I do wonder why some of these kids are out running the streets and not home getting rest for school. Yes, I have become my mother. lol

Patrick said...

They should open the police substation in Shitty Place. That way they aren't using up valuable DTSS real estate. A substation is not the answer. More cops, on foot or on bike is a much better idea.

The real problem is that PG and DC truants are mucking up DTSS. It's not a Montgomery County children problem. So why punish our kids for other counties broken kids?

~Patrick Thornton

Dan Reed said...

It's interesting that there are so many negative responses to the idea of a police substation, but there seems to be a general agreement to having more beat cops in downtown Silver Spring. If a substation creates the perception of crime, wouldn't the presence of more police officers in DTSS mean the same? Either way, I think having more cops on foot/bike/whatever would definitely be a good thing. It doesn't make any sense that there were four times as many cops in downtown Silver Spring in the 1990's as they are today, but there are so many more people here living/shopping/visiting etc. now.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

"If a substation creates the perception of crime, wouldn't the presence of more police officers in DTSS mean the same? "

I think the KIND Of police presence makes a big difference. Clusters of cops and their cars at the ends of Ellsworth looks like a riot is likely. Officer Friendly walking (or biking or on a horse) around pleasantly doesn't.

Cilla said...

Well said, Terry.

Woody Brosnan said...

woody brosnan wrote,

I think we are all in agreement on the need for a more visible police presence in downtown SS and not just on Ellsworth. If a substation is needed to support a bike patrol that might be one thing. But just to rent an office for a sign is a waste of resources. Police cruisers are now equipped with computers and video cameras. Policemen don't need an office. We need a teen center much more than we need a police substation.