Prince George’s Police Department (PGPD) has had a very inauspicious beginning to 2011. Despite that, confidence remains high in Interim Police Chief Mark Magaw’s ability to effectively run his department.

The department had a public relations nightmare in the first two months of the year as homicides spiked. So far in 2011, there have been 35 murders in Prince George’s County compared to 20 last year. The statistics had police and government officials clamoring for answers, which is why County Executive Rushern Baker took extreme measures. The county pooled together additional resources from state and federal law enforcement agencies to handle the problem, but officials say that’s not a knock on Magaw’s leadership. “It made us speed up some of the things that we were going to do,” Baker said. Once the homicides started to escalate, clearly we had to implement a plan to address that. That meant shifting resources we hadn’t planned to shift this early.”

Magaw has made inroads in trying to reach out to the community. In April, Magaw, in an attempt to be proactive about the rising tide of violence at Metro stations throughout the county, partnered with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Police. The two agencies participated in “Operation Blue Tide,” a campaign in which they saturated county Metro stations to speak with citizens to raise awareness and promote safety in mass transit.

However, despite those efforts, some say a strain between the county and local community groups has formed since the firing of former Police Chief Roberto Hylton.

“ ex-chief Hylton I could call and say, ‘This is about to happen, or that is about to happen,’” said Jamal Spratley, CEO and co-founder of Circle of HOPE, community group that promotes peace in Prince George’s County. “It was because of a relationship. That’s what law enforcement needs now.”

Lost in all of this is the fact that overall crime is down in the county, according to officials. A government source, speaking on background, told the AFRO that some of the negative publicity could be subverted if more aggressive efforts were taken to publicize in the media the good things PGPD is doing.

While the road seems bumpy, confidence in Magaw and morale remain high among the rank and file. Officers say he has really shown how dedicated he is to the department during his stint. “The general consensus seems to be that he is fair and that he genuinely cares about the Department and the community we serve,” said Capt. Mistinette Mints.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO