Law enforcement has increased its presence in Prince George's County following the rash of homicides that opened the new year, but officials emphasized the need for community involvement in solving and preventing violent crime in the county.
Three people have been arrested in a New Year's Day homicide in Chillum, Md., Prince George's County Police Chief Mark Magaw announced in a public safety press conference about the 13 homicides in the first 11 days of 2011. He said a person known to the victim set up the robbery that led to the victim's stabbing death.
At least seven suspects have been arrested in connection with four of the 12 criminal homicides in the county so far this year. A 13th homicide is being investigated as probably justifiable -- the victim, 30-year-old Clyde Antwone Rosevelt Howard, was shot by a homeowner on Jan. 11 while apparently trying to break into a home on Riverdale Road in the New Carrolton area.
Drugs, personal disputes and gang activity have been cited in most of the homicides, authorities said.
Police said that with one exception, the homicides don't appear to be linked. Two bodies found Jan. 5 each had their mouths duct-taped, and police said they believe those homicides may be related. The fact that the homicides largely haven't been linked has made it more difficult to solve them and stem the violence, Magaw said.
Agents from the FBI, DEA and ATF have been embedded in the Prince George's County police homicide division to assist in investigations. Also, 13 detectives have been moved to the criminal investigations unit, and five have been moved to narcotics.
An additional 75-100 officers have been patrolling areas where the homicides took place in order to uncover leads and prevent violence, and in the first four nights of that increased presence, about 150 arrests were made, including about 50 on felony charges, Magaw said. Also, police have made 1,500 traffic stops and 283 suspicious person stops that have generated several leads. Prince George's County Sheriff Melvin High, a former county police chief, said his department has closed 16 serious cases since his department and county and municipal police departments increased their presence.
However, law enforcement officials and county leaders agreed that they need the community's help solving and preventing crime.
"The real effort in preventing and stopping things that you've seen over the last couple of weeks in Prince George's County really depends on the community," County Executive Rushern Baker said Tuesday.
Baker also addressed the notion of snitching, citing the Rev. Tony Lee of Community of Hope Church.
"I was pleased to hear Rev. Tony Lee talk about, in a very frank and honest way, about this whole notion of snitching, and I wish I could do it the way that he did it in the sermon because I think all of our folks need to hear, especially our young people, and he said that, to paraphrase, snitching is not when you aren't doing anything wrong and you tell on somebody who's been doing something wrong. Snitching is when you're in violence together and you try to craft a deal for yourself," Baker said.
A day after the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Baker also borrowed a quote from King. "One of the things that Dr. King said was, 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.'"
Authorities believe innocent people in the county have information that can help solve the homicides and asked those people to step forward. Magaw said police have reached out for community assistance via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Officials also emphasized the importance of schools in preventing violence, saying children need to be reached early in order to keep them from getting involved in crime.
"Honest people -- men and women who every day get up and go to work, who've done nothing wrong -- should not be fearful of walking outside their door," Baker said, "and in this county, as long as I am county executive, they will not."