Public Safety Committee chooses three main issues to bring to council

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Police and Public Safety Citizens’ Advisory Committee held their September meeting at the First United Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church

By HELEN LYONS — The City of Hyattsville Police and Public Safety Citizens’ Advisory Committee (PPSCAC), after holding a series of meetings with police and citizens, has chosen three main issues on which to focus their recommendations for the City Council.

“We spent the first number of meetings getting organized,” said Committee Chairman Tom Tucker, “then we identified three issues that we believe would be the three we need to start first.”

Tucker listed the issues “in no particular order” as establishing Neighborhood Watch programs, creating deterrents for gang activity, and examining the final report of President Obama’s Task Force for 21st Century Policing in order to determine Hyattsville’s compliance with each category.

According to Chief of Police Douglas Holland’s assessment of the Hyattsville Police Department’s progress on the task force’s goals, 53 out of 68 goals are already being met or partially met. Chief Holland intends to bring all of the remaining goals into full or partial compliance, beginning with a select few.

Chairman Tucker says that one of the the priorities of the PPSCAC is “looking at those recommendations and giving the chief the best counsel on those that he has selected this year and next year.”

In regards to concerns about gang activity in Hyattsville, while there was some disagreement amongst committee members as to the extent of the problem at present, Chairman Tucker said that “prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

“The big issue is that it hasn’t been addressed,” said Irma Echeverria, the committee’s secretary. “The Hyattsville police are fantastic, but they are underfunded and overworked. They haven’t focused on [gang activity] because they didn’t think that the community was concerned.”

Echeverria says that is changing.

“There have been enough concerns from people in different parts of Hyattsville about the increase in both crime and the severity of crime that this is one of the issues being brought to the table,” she said. “We’re hoping that with the recommendations that we provide the council, the City will no longer be able to ignore these issues.”

Council Member Joseph Solomon (Ward 5), who spearheaded the formation of the committee, is interested in hearing the recommendations for each of the three areas.

“If they picked those issues,” said Solomon, “then obviously it means that the committee feels that these are issues in our community, and it’s something that council should take up and try to address.”

The third of those issues, the establishment of Neighborhood Watches, is something that is already being done in Hyattsville, and Solomon says that it appears to have made a difference.

“It seems like in communities where there is an active neighborhood watch,” he said, “there is a reduction in crime and there is at least a confidence in the neighborhood that there is less activity. People get to know their neighbors, and can explain their concerns in a tranquil setting.”

According to Solomon, Emily Strab, the vice chair of PPSCAC, heads the oldest and most prominent of the Neighborhood Watches, in Ward 2. She says that the Neighborhood Watch issue ties in closely the President’s Report on 21st Century Policing.

“When you’re talking about community policing,” said Strab, “the community is a big part of that. In Hyattsville we have a pretty small police force and they’re very responsive, but as a community it’s partly our responsibility.”

According to Strab, the committee will be making recommendations for City Council and staff to work on providing tools so that they can support several neighborhood watches in Hyattsville.

“On our block, we all really actually know one another,” Strab said. “I feel like we are the safest block in Hyattsville, because we watch out for one another. You have to know your neighbors in order to get anything done.”

The PPSCAC reports to the City Council, and many members have attended meetings. While the committee will eventually present its specific recommendations in each of the three categories, the City Council is not obligated to pursue any of them.

“They can take them, they can ignore them, they can do whatever they want to,” said Chairman Tucker, but he also added that, “Good recommendations always make good decisions.”

The goal of the next meeting will be to choose three different people to head each issue and organize groups around them. It will be held on Oct. 5 in the Nicholas Orem Middle School cafeteria.