City crime continues downward trend

By HEATHER WRIGHT Hyattsville rang in the new year with a shooting near Hyattsville Middle School. On Jan. 2, Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) officers responded to a call about gunshots in the vicinity of 4200 Nicholson Street. HCPD reported that two people armed with semi-automatic handguns exchanged gunfire and fled the scene before police arrived.

However, overall crime — including most gun-related crime — has been trending downwards in Hyattsville. Although the more in-depth HCPD 2018 annual department report will be released within a month or so, according to HCPD Public Information Officer Lt. Chris Purvis, its 2018 statistics report is already available online.

Overall, crime in 2018 was down 11.6 percent from 2017, and down 20.2 percent from five years ago (2014). The HCPD report shows a total of 1,065 crimes committed within the city boundaries last year, compared to 1,205 in 2017 and 1,335 in 2014. Crimes were down in every major category except rape (3 in 2018, up from 2 in 2017). However, rape was down by 66.7 percent when compared to 2014 (3, down from 9).

Total crimes against persons (which includes homicide, rape, robbery, carjacking and assault) decreased 25.4 percent from 2017 (138, down from 185) and 13.8 percent from 2014 (down from 160). Total crimes against property (which includes breaking and entering, stolen vehicle, theft and arson) decreased 9.1 percent from 2017 (927, down from 1020) and 21.1 percent from 2014 (down from 1175). Theft continues to be the most common crime committed in Hyattsville, accounting for 76.8 percent of last year’s total crimes. Importantly, then, theft is down 11.6 percent from 2017 (818, down from 863) and 17.1 percent from 2014 (down from 987).

Gun-related crimes have largely been trending downward, as well. Commercial robbery with a gun was down 100 percent from 2017 (0, down from 4), and 100 percent from 2014 (0, down from 4). Citizen robbery with a gun was down 36 percent from 2017 (16, down from 25), and 23.8 percent from 2014 (down from 21). Although assault with a gun was down 27.3 percent from 2017 (8, down from 11), it was up 14.3 percent from 2014 (8, up from 7). The shooting incident on Jan. 2 would be counted in this category in the 2019 report.

Some non-crime categories are also included in the HCPD statistics reports. Red light citations were up 30.7 percent (4793, up from 3667). In contrast, speed camera citations were down 21.1 percent (19,366, down from 24,537). DUI arrests were down 18 percent (41, down from 50).

Purvis said during an interview, “We’ll ride this boat as long as we can; crime trends are going down. I can’t tell you why it’s going down, but I can tell you what we’re doing, and, apparently, it’s having an effect. But I’ve been here 30 years. Crime can turn around and just spike, and you do the best you can to address it and not ignore it.”

To help prevent crime, the HCPD is using technology and community relationships to gather and analyze data. Purvis gave an example of responding to a rash of package thefts that occured at Arts District Hyattsville by EYA in November and December 2017.

“As soon as we learned about it, we addressed it by looking at the data, listening to the citizen complaints, watching the reports coming in and the phone calls coming in, and the people sharing video,” said Purvis. “Fast forward to 2018, November, December, we already knew it was going to be an issue, or that it could be, so we directed patrols there before it even started and stepped up our patrols.”

Numerous ongoing development projects in Hyattsville mean more people, more cars, more parking garages and, with them, potentially more crime. In response, Purvis said, the HCPD tries to increase patrols in the area of newly opened developments and build relationships with new residents through community meetings and partnerships with homeowners associations.

“A lot of [new residents] come in from areas where they just have the county, they don’t have a personalized police department, so … we try to encourage them to dial our police department’s phone number in case they need any assistance or have any questions, so a lot of it is just education,” said Purvis.

Update on body cameras

According to Purvis, the HCPD began a body camera pilot program in August 2013 through a grant from HCPD’s insurers, Local Government Insurance Trust, that provided the HCPD with 30 body cameras at no cost. Following a successful pilot program, the HCPD tried out several different body cameras and chose a Panasonic model. As of March 2018, every HCPD officer wears a body camera.

Body cameras help provide accountability and transparency, address training needs and assist in investigating citizen complaints, said Purvis. For example, if a resident says that an officer used abusive language towards them, it’s no longer one person’s word against another’s, but officers and residents can review the tape of the incident in question.

MS-13 arrests attributed to HCPD work funded by Maryland state grant

When asked about new programs that the HCPD wanted to highlight, Purvis called attention to a Maryland state grant, funded by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) and the Maryland Criminal Intelligence Network, that HCPD began receiving in February 2017. The grant, according to Purvis, allows the HCPD to bring in additional resources and to increase direct patrols around the city, including around University Town Center and the Mall at Prince George’s. In addition to providing general law enforcement, these patrols specifically seek to identify gang members.

Through police work directly funded by the grant, four members of the criminal street gang MS-13 were arrested for committing multiple robberies against taxi cab drivers in Hyattsville between Dec. 29, 2018 and Jan. 8, 2019, according to a HCPD press release. A search warrant yielded property that belonged to robbery victims, along with weapons, ammunition and cocaine. All four suspects admitted their involvement in the taxi robberies and in additional armed robberies that were under investigation.

In the press release, GOCCP Executive Director Glenn Fueston said, “The success of this effort is a direct result of the strong collaboration among federal, state, and local partners, and we want to thank the City of Hyattsville Police Department for leading this effort in helping to make Maryland a safer place.”

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