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Public safety meeting highlights police staffing challenges in Prince George's County

The police department says it's currently understaffed.

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — Prince George's County leaders met with residents on Saturday in a town hall meeting devoted to public safety.

"I’m worried about our children," said Phyillis Wright, who has two daughters in Prince George's County Schools.

As parents and residents raised concerns at the wide ranging meeting at Bishop McNamara High School, public safety staffing problems emerged as a common theme.

James McCreary, Prince George's County Police Department (PGPD) Deputy Chief for the Bureau of Patrol, said a fully staffed PGPD would have 1,800 officers.

They currently sit below that mark but, when asked, he declined to say by how much.

"I'm not going to get into that right now but yeah we are down staffing levels," said Deputy Chief McCreary.

According to him, that shortage limits what the department can do.

One resident asked, "What can we as citizens do to get more officers walking into the various communities to get to know its residents and its various circumstances?"

"In a perfect world, we could have an officer on every corner and in every neighborhood," McCreary responded. But a "lack of staffing" makes widespread use of foot patrols unfeasible.

That's not to say that no progress is being made.

McCreary said the most recent officer academy class was one of the largest in years.

And, in 2022, murders in the county dropped by 23% compared to the year before, according to the county's online crime database. 

But manpower limitations mean tradeoffs, as evidenced by a series of strategic decisions regarding an area that was a frequent scene of violence.

Late last year, there was a string of violent crimes near the 3200 block of Walters Lane.

"We've had murders, we had carjackings," said the Deputy Chief.

Neighbors were worried.

"We have been put under siege where our children who even go to schools like McNamara do not feel comfortable walking to school," said one man at the town hall who lives in the neighborhood.

In response to the violence, McCreary said police stationed at least one unit in the area around the clock for 90 days. 

But now those 90 days are almost up.

Prince George's County Council Vice Chair Wala Blegay questioned what comes next.

"What happens when the police department lifts up all of the surveillance that's going on right now?" she asked.

McCreary said police will continue to have a presence in the area, but without full manpower the around-the-clock surveillance takes overtime. That overtime is costly, and eventually becomes too expensive to maintain. 

"We absolutely have to be there to combat crime but we can't occupy the area forever," said McCreary.

Council Vice-Chair Blegay promised that increasing public safety staffing is one of her main priorities as councilmembers prepare to discuss next year's budget.

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