WHEATON – Members of the Montgomery County Council and the District 18 State Delegation held a community forum on Nov. 18 for residents to express their concerns about the Wheaton Metro Parking garage.
Over the years, the Wheaton Metro Parking garage has been a cause for concern due to unhealthy and unsafe conditions inside the garage.
County Council President Nancy Navarro has been an advocate for improving the garage and has suggested things like safety patrols, updated cameras and facility upgrades, among others.
In response, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) plans to install security cameras and make further improvements like painting the garage walls and adding emergency phones. The enhancements are slated to begin in the Spring of 2020.
Navarro kicked off the town hall event by explaining that she and the council have been working for years to improve safety in the area, and they have received many complaints that more needs to be done. She went on to note that other garages and metro stations in Washington, D.C., and Prince George’s County areas have higher rates of crime; thus, they are prioritized over the Wheaton Metro Parking Garage.
In his opening remarks, state Del. Jared Solomon (D-18) noted what an asset it is to the community to have the Wheaton Metro and parking garage. He admitted that the garage could use real improvements but also indicated that it should include public art.
Also in attendance were representatives from WMATA and the Metro Transit Police to provide information about the future safety improvement plan.
Capt. Stephen Deveaux, who works within the Metro Transit Police Department, echoed Navarro as he explained that other Metro stations with higher rates of crime. He noted that 226 officers patrol the stations and their surrounding areas.
“We deploy our officers where the crimes are,” he said. Deveaux explained that the Silver Spring Metro station and surrounding area is an example of an area that is more at risk for a crime while crime in the Wheaton Metro Station and parking garage has been falling in recent years.
“We’ve seen a 30% drop in crime from fiscal year 2016 to 2017,” he said. “We’re at historic lows for crime, and we reach a point where we wonder, how much lower can we go?”
Sean Corbett was one of the first members of the audience to ask a question of the panel. He explained that a few months ago, he was walking through the Wheaton Metro Parking lot and noticed graffiti that featured hate speech on one of the walls.
Corbett also said he’d noticed a “gag-worthy” smell of urine within the parking garage and crimes like broken car windows and small acts of vandalism.
He asked the panel how officials classify crimes in the Wheaton Metro Parking lot, “because it clearly isn’t what I think the community would expect,” he said.
Deveaux explained that crimes are classified in the same way across jurisdictions. He also suspected that when people witness vandalism and break-ins, they’re probably calling 911 instead of calling the metro police.
“We only report the crimes that are reported to us,” he said. “The garage only had a total of 11 crimes; those are the only crimes that were reported in that garage since January 1, 2019, to the transit police.”
Deveaux also stated that Montgomery County Police (MCP) and Metro Transit Police do not often collaborate.
“They (MCP) don’t share their statistics with us,” Deveaux said.
Katie Misewicz was another resident from the area who asked the panel questions. She explained that members of her family rely on accessible ways into the subway, like the elevator, which needs repair.
Belinda Barrett, manager of Parking Operations, explained that she had no information or a timeline on when the elevator might be repaired but noted that elevator repairs can take up to nine months.
The panelists from WMATA gave the audience an overview of the improvements coming to the Wheaton Metro Station in the coming months. Enhancements include a rehabilitation plan that will address issues like structural repairs, painting the walls and ceiling to brighten the garage, signage and pressure washing, among other things. WMATA expects the project to be done in 2022.
They also highlighted an effort brought forth in 2018 and currently underway that will upgrade and replace the security cameras and emergency telephone systems inside the garage. This project is expected to be completed in the spring of 2020.