Rushern Baker

Rushern Baker III is the county executive for Prince George’s County. (AFRO File Photo)

An effort by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III to fight crime and improve living conditions in certain areas of the county has gotten praise, but some county leaders say that more work needs to be done.

In April 2012, Baker launched his signature community project, Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI), because of rising crime rates in the county. Baker recently announced the next phase of the program.

“When we launched TNI, we had a vision to uplift communities and the people who live in them,” Baker said on June 23 at the newly renovated Palmer Park Community Center. “TNI has always been about the people who make our neighborhoods great. And from the beginning, we knew that if we could help people trust the government, learn how to navigate services, resolve issues and advocate for what they need and want-a transformed neighborhood would be inevitable.”

In 2012, six neighborhoods were targeted by Baker for county assistance – East Riverdale/Bladensburg, Glassmanor/Oxon Hill, Langley Park, Hillcrest Heights/ Marlow Heights, Kentland/Palmer Park, and Suitland/Coral Hills. Baker announced that on January 1, 2017 Glassmanor/ Oxon Hill, Langley Park, and East Riverdale/Bladensburg will be transitioned to community management or to a more autonomous standing within the county government while three new areas, Forestville, Silver Hill, and Woodlawn/Lanham will be added.

The other three original areas will remain under TNI even though Baker said that those areas “have shown improvement.” Communities under TNI’s jurisdiction will have access to more public safety and social service resources. The goal is to improve those neighborhoods that are plagued by high foreclosure, crime, and school absentee rates, and low academic performance, civic engagement and income rates.

Baker said he will appoint a TNI manager. This person will coordinate the program that will consolidate county services to TNI neighborhoods. There will also be a TNI leadership team that will assist the manager in each area.

“TNI has improved deficiencies in our community,” Karen Anderson, president of the Suitland Civic Association told the AFRO. “When it was started, we were concerned about the lack of transparency but we better understand how it works.” Anderson said she has noticed a drop in crime in her area and a fuller sense of community engagement since TNI started.

TNI focuses on unincorporated neighborhoods, not municipalities. Municipalities aren’t eligible for TNI and similar resources from the county and state, and federal funds and programs such as community block grants. “Those grants that it has given out to those communities have raised the standard of living,” Douglas Edwards, president of the Central Prince George’s County Community Organizations, told the AFRO.

However, both Anderson and Edwards are concerned that, in December 2018, when the new county executive takes office, TNI will disappear. By law, Baker is term limited and can not serve after this time. “Different leaders have different priorities,” Anderson said. “The new county executive may not have a real commitment to TNI. The initiative is good but when Rushern Baker leaves TNI may go with him.”

Edwards said he will work to make sure that TNI in some form survives. “I do not believe it will be dropped,” he said. “We would not elect any one county executive who would allow that initiative to go down.”