Like other communities in the D.C. area and across the nation, Montgomery County, Maryland, is facing a surge in violent crime, and it’s confronting the threat to public safety with fewer police officers.
The county council’s Public Safety Committee was briefed Monday on new crime statistics and on the available number of police officers.
Crime data for the first nine months of this year compared to the same period last year shows that the homicide rate is up more than 29%, aggravated assaults are up nearly 24% and carjackings rose more than 126%.
The committee was told that there have been 56 carjackings in the county between Jan. 1 and Nov. 12. Since December 2020, there have been average of nearly six carjackings each month.
“We’ve received a lot of correspondence on this, as we should, from constituents, who do not feel safe, and unfortunately, in some cases, they’re taking matters into their own hands. We’ve had a record number of gun purchases in Montgomery County,” said Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz.
The council was also shown data that reflects a large increase in gun purchases throughout the state of Maryland.
Police Chief Marcus Jones told the panel that there have been “significant” crime issues across the entire county, along with a prevalence of guns, which has raised concern.
“Significantly in my 36-year career, I have never seen the amount of guns and gun activity that is currently on our streets here in Montgomery County, here in the year 2021,” Jones said.
There are not just more guns but also more incidents in which 10 or more shots were fired. On Oct. 3, more than 50 shots were fired in an incident in which two people were shot on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. On Oct. 16 on Fenton Street, also in Silver Spring, there was a running shootout in which at least 45 shots were fired. No one was hit.
“It’s just by sheer luck that no innocent victims have been hit in these types of gunfire incidents,” said Susan Farag, a legislative analyst for the Montgomery County Council.
No arrests have been made in either incident.
In her briefing on the crime statistics and the trends, Farag told the panel she reviewed 40 pages of crime data and it should be seen against the backdrop of fewer police officers on the street.
“There’s been a reduction of 56 police officers that could be out on the street between February and now,” Farag said. She reminded the committee that the council itself, through its police reform efforts, eliminated 25 police officer positions, while other officers have retired or quit the department.
At the start of 2021, the county police department was authorized to employ 1,307 sworn law enforcement officers, there were 30 vacancies at that time. Today, the department is authorized to employ 1,281 officers and there are 60 vacancies.
Recruiting is not currently replenishing the ranks.
“Considering the challenges that there are with recruiting, I believe there are 13 candidates in the current class — so there are not enough to replace attrition at this point,” Farag said.
Jones noted that it is unusual that nonviolent crime rates have gone down the past two years rather than rise along with the categories of violent crime.
During the first nine months of the year, compared to the same period last year, commercial burglary is down nearly 31%, residential burglary is down nearly 12% and auto theft is down almost 23%.