After dozens of drivers swarmed downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, during a rowdy car rally last weekend, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said he is committed to significant efforts to curb crime in the area.
“Having residents feel unsafe is simply not acceptable. No one should go to downtown Silver Spring expecting a pleasant night and have it disrupted by these folks driving like lunatics … it has to stop; and it will be stopped,” Elrich said during an online briefing with reporters Wednesday.
He added, “Sooner or later, someone’s gonna get killed in this stupidity.”
Even before the car rally, Elrich said, his office had focused anti-crime efforts in Silver Spring, which also appears to the epicenter of an “unsettling” spike in carjackings, Elrich said.
A special unit of the Montgomery County Police Department is carrying out a number of efforts.
“They’re looking for stolen vehicles. They’re positioning officers in more highly visible areas and working with other agencies,” Elrich said. He added, “This is going to be an ongoing thing. I’m not looking to bump down numbers for a month and declare victory. I’m looking for something that produces permanent changes.”
Earlier this week, County Council President Tom Hucker blasted “lawlessness” in downtown Silver Spring and called for a more visible police presence in the area, saying residents and business owners feel abandoned.
The county is also planning to install more license-plate readers throughout the region.
Already, authorities say they plan to refer license plates collected from video of the incident Saturday night and contact insurance companies.
“This will enable the insurance companies to hike their rates and hit them in the pocket. That’s the least we can do, but it’s not the last thing we’re going to do,” Elrich said.
He also asked for the public’s help.
“If they see reckless driving actions like this, or are aware of a gathering of these vehicles, report these cars to our police nonemergency number. And if your phone is handy, snap a photo or video and send it on to us.”
Elrich defended the police response to the incident. No one was injured, but video shared on social media showed cars spinning doughnuts in the middle of intersections and spectators dashing out of the way.
“MCPD cannot — by policy nor by common sense — pursue these individuals in high-speed chases,” Elrich said. “That would be a recipe for disaster and even death.”
Elrich said officers gave a heads-up to authorities in neighboring Prince George’s County and the Maryland State Police so they could be on the lookout as the crowd dispersed.
Montgomery County police officers “did their best to contain this awful situation. I applaud them for their actions to eventually dismantle this gathering without serious injuries.”
Responding to criticism that his call for enhanced policing now contradicts his support for efforts to reimagine policing by, for example, removing police from mental health crisis situations, Elrich insisted he’s not trying to have it both ways.
“We’ve been very clear. There’s a whole bunch of things related to mental health issues and things we don’t think the police should be dealing with,” he said, since often police don’t have the proper training.
“No one ever said we don’t want the police to do anything,” he said, saying the response to the rowdy car meet-ups “is a perfect example of where police need to be engaged, because these people are actually seriously endangering the community.”
He added, “To me, there’s no conflict between wanting officers to be involved in something and also wanting officers not to be involved in other things. And certainly, whatever you do, to do it in a way that doesn’t create more problems within the community.”
The county executive said he is also urging the county council to take up a proposal to increase police salaries, particularly for rookie officers.
The current starting salary for a police officer in the county is $54,620 a year, which officials say is among the lowest in the region.
Elrich has proposed a $5,000 boost to the starting salary for officers.
While the county offers more competitive pay in the mid-ranges, “no one’s going to wait five or 10 years and experience five or 10 years of lost income, when they think about what they could get at another police department.”