Community meeting

Prince George community meeting on crime turns combative

A friendly conversation about ways to fight crime in Prince George’s County turned emotional at Creative Suitland, one of the county’s designated safe spaces for children and young adults in the jurisdiction.

It all started after Councilor Dr. Shryl Whigman summarized the mental health, behavioral and other services available for youth and young adults in the county.

The last six minutes of the estimated 90-minute discussion on Thursday, April 15 ended in shouting.

“What are we doing about homelessness in PG County? What do we do about PG police brutality? Kenneth Clark, a local activist from Oxon Hill, shouted from the back of the room.

County Manager Angela Alsobrooks stepped in to answer one of her questions, but Clark yelled “Mic check!” five times.

Alsobrooks tried to answer a question, again, but Clark said, “It’s a dog and pony show. We have to be realistic with that and deal with it.

Prince George’s County Police Chief Malik Aziz (second from right) chats with attendees after a community conversation about crime at Creative Suitland on April 14. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

“Be respectful. Let me answer the question,” Alsobrooks said.

Suitland’s Antonio Mingo stood next to Clark and shouted that residents of the surrounding community were not in the room.

“I have two children. I’m here for them,” he said.

Another woman said she had not seen her grandson for two years. Clark and Mingo continued to talk.

“The problem is that we don’t respect each other. I want to answer the question. Please respect the people coming down here tonight,” Alsobrooks said.

Reverend Tony Lee, pastor of Community of Hope AME Church in Temple Hills, served as a panelist to answer written questions from the audience, left the makeshift stage to step out and speak with Clark.

“I did the civilized thing. I’m tired of nobody talking about the real issues,” Clark said.

When the discussion was over, Mingo walked over to Alsobrooks and apologized for shouting.

Mingo pointed out how several Prince George’s County police supervisors in white shirts, local politicians and local election candidates filled some of the seats. The county asked residents to register online to attend the meeting.

“I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful in any way,” he said. “But the problem was that the other women and families in the back were raising their hands and not being recognized. So what’s the point of this panel if you don’t involve the real community? If you looked in the audience, you didn’t see the people in the community. I don’t have all the answers but I think I’m off to a good start.

Police Chief Malik Aziz then spoke with several people, including Dawn Dalton, whose son Lupe Hawkins was assaulted by Prince George police in 2010.

“I always have to try to play my position and I play it very well,” Aziz said. “It’s a professional police service that we try to provide. We should never push back. We should engage with each other.

Aziz also spoke with Nikki Owens, the cousin of William Green, whose family received a $20 million settlement from the county after he was killed by a former police officer in January 2020.

“I feel like there’s a huge people problem in the police department and even in our entire justice system,” said Owens, who traveled from Fredericksburg, Va., to attend the session. “As black people, these things happen in your community. What are you going to do to stop the problem of people? »

Aziz, who became chief last year after 29 years with the Dallas Police Department, responded.

“I don’t know of any police around me or my management team who would condone police brutality. I don’t condone police brutality,” he told Owens. “My condolences. I do not condone police brutality.

“I like good cops,” he said. “I don’t like a single bad cop. This is not what the community deserves. I’m here for you but I think it’s gonna start with us right here. But [we will need] a longer conversation. I need to know what I can do to contribute to the community in the right way.

Crime statistics

The police department distributed an 18-page document on crime statistics for attendees to review. People who were unable to attend can also view the discussion online.

The following is a summary of the comparison of selected data from Prince George police and municipal agencies between January 1 and April 7, 2021 compared to the same time period this year, respectively.

  • Murder: 40; 31
  • Assaults: 501; 549
  • Robbery: 342; 457
  • Domestic violence: 412; 431
  • Burglary: 325; 363

Aziz said one of the most alarming statistics involves carjackings, an offense he and other DC-area law enforcement officials continue to seek ways to effectively address.

One of the reasons Aziz attributed to the increase in criminal activity was a decrease in the number of applicants to the department which currently has 1,464 officers.

“We’re budgeted for 1,786,” ​​he said. “We need as many police as are needed to do the job.”

As for those applying to the department, 7,445 applied in 2012. This figure fell to 5,100 in 2014 and 1,003 last year.

To attract more officers to the department, Alsobrooks said the proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 allocates $640,000, which includes incentives for officers to work and live in the county.

“We think it’s so important to continue to encourage having officers who live in the communities in which they serve,” she said. “It’s hard to serve people you don’t know or understand.”

Beverly John, a Hyattsville community activist, said Clark made valid points about what county and law enforcement officials were doing specifically to protect the community.

“We have a question about what’s going to protect us from the police who choose to harm us,” said John, who co-founded Concerned Citizens for Bail Reform in Prince George’s County.

“All [county officials] spoken sounded good,” John said. “The community must be heard to address the real issue of police reform. It has to be done.”