A coalition of concerned citizens in Potomac are calling for immediate action to combat an up tick in residential burglaries in their neighborhoods.
In a letter to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), the Potomac Coalition for Public Safety has requested immediate action to counter the up tick in home invasions and theft in the Potomac area. A string of 24 burglaries and attempted burglaries in Potomac were reported for the months of September and October alone.
The coalition formed in late November, following the crime spree and is made up of approximately 50 residents. According to its website, the coalition aims to work with county officials to address the issue of crime in the area, particularly burglaries.
The letter to Leggett outlines 12 requests, including the reopening of a Potomac substation and the creation of a designated "Potomac Beat." Currently, Potomac rests within the Rockville-District 1 beat. The coalition also requested the establishment of a budget line item for Potomac public safety in the county’s annual budget submission.
"Across Potomac, an atmosphere of fear, anger and frustration has replaced the sense of tranquility and security which for decades has characterized our neighborhoods," the coalition letter states. “While other communities in our county have their own dedicated police forces or locally placed stations, Potomac does not…The residents of Potomac deserve no less protection for their lives and property than their fellow citizens in other parts of the County.”
A full list of the coalition’s requests can be found on the its website.
"Our goal is to work constructively with the authorities, with the government and with the police to find a solution,” said Potomac resident and coalition member Rand Fishbein. “Collectively we want to know where our elected officials stand on the issue of public safety. Are they prepared to direct a proportionate share of resources to Potomac to address this problem? Do they believe that there’s a problem? And if they do, how responsive are they going to be?"
The coalition met with county representatives at a meeting December 7 to address some of its concerns. Assistant Police Chief Wayne Jerman, Assistant Police Chief Russ Hamill, First District Commander James Fenner, First District Community Services Officer Michael Prather, County Criminal Investigations Director Capt. Diane McCarthy and the Executive Director of Western Montgomery County, Ken Hartman, were among the attendees.
At the meeting, members of the coalition asked the representatives to explain the methods police use when fighting and reporting crime in the area. Residents have been concerned with police response time to calls, which in one occasion has taken up to an hour and ten minutes, and police communication of existing investigations.
Police came under fire in November, after taking over an hour to respond to a burglary call. Police spokesman Cpt. Paul Starks told Patch last week that officers were following dispatch orders and were rerouted to another burglary in progress.
“There's a general feeling that we pay a lot of taxes in Potomac, and that we’re not really getting a proportionate share of attention in terms of public safety resources as in other areas of the county,” said Jeff Parmet, president of the Potomac Manors Homeowners association.
Community Services Officer Prather said informational meetings like the Dec. 7 gathering were constructive for both police and residents and would likely continue in the future.
“Overall it went well,” Prather said of the meeting. “I think we were able to answer a lot of their questions.”
Residents who were able to attend the meeting also said the police and county representatives were forthcoming with answers to questions.
"I came away from the meeting delighted that the police took us seriously enough to show up in the force that they did," Fishbein said. "But translating dialogue into action is something that remains to be seen."
Though county council members maintain that crime, on a whole, is decreasing in the county, they have acknowledged a deficiency in police staffing levels.
"We're way understaffed," said Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park. "We already know that there are other sectors that are really seriously in need of upstaffing. We are way deficit in the number of officers that we have."
The council public safety committee is tentatively scheduled to meet with Montgomery County Police Jan. 13, 2012, according to council spokesman Neil Greenberger.
"We want to sit down and have a real discussion about what the staffing needs are and what the problems are," Elrich said.
Meanwhile, the coalition is also collecting signatures for a petition requesting that the county executive and the county council acknowledge "the growing criminal activity" in Potomac and to make a marked effort to bring the issue under control.
"When we have 1,000 signatures on our petition, we will be a force to be reckoned with," Parmet said. "We don’t have it yet, but we’re just starting."