TAKOMA PARK – On March 6, Takoma Park Chief of Police Antonio DeVaul briefed the Takoma Park City Council on the 2018 crime statistics for the area.
The comprehensive report highlights all the crimes committed in Takoma Park, along with programs and initiatives the police department has been undertaking in the past year. The report also covers which officers were promoted or retired within the department.
Findings from the report indicate a 6.67 percent decrease in crime overall in the city between 2017 and 2018 and a larger trend of decreasing crime rates over the last four years.
“I’m so proud to report that there were no homicides or rapes in the city in 2018 as well as a 34 percent decrease in robberies, which is significant,” DeVaul said. “The decrease in crime has a lot to do with the proactive efforts of our staff.”
DeVaul is new to the Takoma Park Police Department; he began serving last January. During his time of leading the department, he has focused much of his attention on engaging his officers with the community.
“My first year as chief was just engaging people in living rooms, whether it was eight people or fifty people I think it’s important for the community to see us,” DeVaul said. “The more we can just engage folks on every level I, think is extremely important.”
Councilman Terry J. Seamans (Ward 4) commented on the department’s efforts to be more accessible to the community during the council session.
“It’s heartwarming to see the numbers and statistics, but I especially appreciate the improvements that I’ve seen in the integrity of the department,” Seamans said. “Anecdotally, the community members that I hear back from are commenting on the improvements in the police and public interactions, so that’s really appreciated.”
The department’s engagement efforts have taken the form of different programs and initiatives. For example, the Community Cam Program allows residents to register their private video surveillance systems with the Takoma Park Police Department so that footage can be used to solve crimes. Another way the department is engaging with young members of the community is through Operation Chill, in which the department partners with 7-Eleven convenience stores to reward good behavior with free Slurpees drinks.
During the past year, the department’s efforts have also included the use of technology and analysis to prevent and solve crimes in the community.
The crime statistics report compiled by the police department has not been able to indicate specific details about which changes were responsible for the decrease in crime rates. Information like that takes deeper analysis and more time, says DeVaul.
Although the council says it has been very pleased with the changes DeVaul made in the department, City Manager Suzanne Ludlow noted the tendency to place credit for low crime rates on the police department when, in reality, there are many factors that play into crime rates.
“I just want to make the point that a reduction of crimes does not necessarily mean the police department did something better,” said Ludlow. “The trend is to take credit when rates are lowered, and then it’s somebody else’s fault when it goes up.”
Councilwoman Kacy Kostiuk (Ward 3) said that she has been very pleased with the amount of community outreach the department has done under DeVaul’s leadership. But she also highlighted a challenge that remains persistent for Takoma Park: the lack of cooperation across jurisdictions. Takoma Park borders Washington, D.C., and there have been instances of crime occurring very near or on the border of the two police jurisdictions, Kostiuk explained.
A recent robbery on the border between Takoma Park and D.C highlighted the issue.
“What would have been a relatively seamless investigation and pursuit was unnecessarily complicated by the cross-jurisdictional nature of the location,” she said.
D.C police were dispatched to the incident but were unable to pursue the suspect when they learned that the person had run into Takoma Park. D.C police officers do not have the authority to pursue suspects in Takoma Park unless they see the person themselves, Kostiuk explained.
“It isn’t right that a resident’s level of response from police is dependent upon where in the city, or even just outside of the city, a crime occurs,” Kostiuk said. “That doesn’t serve anyone well, because we all benefit if crimes can be solved quickly and there is improved coordination between police.”
One way to fix the issue is to have a memorandum of understanding between the two jurisdictions that would allow the D.C and Takoma Park police departments to share resources and information.
“It is simply a written agreement to identify the working relationships between the two agencies,” DeVaul said. “It allows officers to have concurrent jurisdiction in D.C, for Maryland agencies, and in Maryland for D.C agencies. It also allows for resource sharing.”
Agreements like these are common, he said. Police departments often have them between school districts or anywhere jurisdictions border each other or overlap.
“Chief DeVaul has been working on trying to develop a Memorandum of Understanding with the D.C Metropolitan Police to address this sort of issue,” Kostiuk said. “I really appreciate that he was been proactive on this and recognizes how important it is.”