Montgomery police seek state grant to help fight crime
The Gazette - Online

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Montgomery County Police are turning again to a state grant it has received in the past that will provide up to $233,000 to will help officers better track repeat criminal offenders and limit overall crime.

The police department will submit its application for the grant, which is offered by the Maryland Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, by the end of the month to meet the state deadline.

The grant pairs local police with their counterparts from the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation and the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, said Bill Toohey, a spokesman for the governor's crime prevention office.

The grant is known as the Collaborative Supervision and Focused Enforcement Violence Prevention Initiative (CSAFE).

"When CSAFE was first started some years ago, it was money focused on particular neighborhoods where there were hot spots of criminal activity," Toohey said. "As time went by, we realized we were limiting ourselves by working in just one neighborhood because robbers don't work in just one neighborhood."

The funds contributed $257,724 to county police in the 2011 fiscal year, Toohey said.

Of that total, $33,031 went to the Silver Spring police district, $30,851 went to Wheaton police and $23,143 each went to the Germantown and Gaithersburg districts, said Sgt. Robert Musser, the department's CSAFE coordinator.

Another $71,776 went to the county State's Attorney's Office to fund a community prosecutor who meets regularly with the officers to identify individuals at risk of violating parole and to track repeat offenders. An additional $52,780 funded a crime analyst and $23,000 funded a civilian coordinator to help run the program, Musser added.

Under the grant — which actively funds public safety efforts in 42 areas across the state — police must meet twice a month with parole and probation officers, juvenile service experts, state's attorneys and other community-based officials like housing representatives. The groups, called Heightened Enforcement Accountability and Treatment cells, or "HEAT" teams, discuss crime trends, share information on repeat offenders and serve warrants if necessary, Musser said.

The grant also mandates forming a Strategic Planning Committee, including a grant-funded crime analyst that provides information to the HEAT team, said Lt. Michael Price, one of the deputy commanders of the Silver Spring police district who oversees the Briggs Chaney area.

"It gives us more resources to specifically address certain hot spot areas. Calls for service dictate how we respond, so this is a way to proactively handle that," he said of the grant.

With these extra funds, police can more easily spare additional officers — many of whom need to be assigned on overtime hours — when a crime trend appears in a specific area, Price said.

"Before the grant, it was almost like we were having to rob Peter to pay Paul," he said.

As one crime trend would appear, he would need to pull officers from another area to address it, he said. Now Price is able to assign extra officers to areas where crime trends are occurring using CSAFE money.

The flexibility affects higher-crime areas such as Silver Spring, which police identified as the busiest of the county's six policing districts in 2010, with 20 percent of the county's total calls for service that year.

So far, most of the residents and citizens associations Price has asked to support the grant have greeted the news with excitement.

Some, however, like Colesville resident and public safety activist Ed Weiler, asked about the impact of the grant on arrests.

"I'm in total support of the police and I want to get the CSAFE money, but I don't want cops to be tired and I don't want to see cops who are from special divisions who aren't familiar with the area to come in here on overtime money," he said. "It should be about making more arrests; that's the bottom line."

Musser emphasized the grant's focus on oversight of repeat offenders. Arresting known criminals for violating parole sooner means police are less likely to have to deal with more serious crimes in the future, he said.

"That's the success, when you get an immediate arrest of a person who has violated their probation for a previous offense," he said. "We're visiting their homes and we're intervening to say ‘Hey, we're watching you, we know what you're up to.' "

The CSAFE funds will become available to police at the beginning of the next fiscal year, July 1.