Former Prince George’s County Rushern L. Baker III stood Wednesday in a Suitland neighborhood that has been one of the most crime-ridden areas in the county and the D.C. region.
Today, the more than 30-acre tract called Towne Square at Suitland Federal Center incorporates modern townhouses and a senior-citizen complex. Construction continues at the $400 million development to build several businesses such as a hotel and a performing arts center to run programs in conjunction with nearby Suitland High School.
The ongoing project serves as part of a program Baker established called Transforming Neighborhood Initiative, or TNI, which designated resources and services to communities such as Suitland that face economic, health and other social ills.
Baker, who seeks the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in the July 19 primary, said he wants to incorporate that program statewide.
His plan would aim to eliminate the spate of carjackings in Prince George’s. So far in 2022, the county has had 130 such crimes, compared to nearly 400 all of last year.
“If you don’t name that crime is one of the things that’s scaring people across this county and across this state, then you can’t deal with it,” he said. “Carjacking is not just joyriding. This is a criminal enterprise. It needs the governor’s help to come in with our state attorney general and police, working with the FBI, working with the Justice Department, working with the District of Columbia to help rebuke carjackings.”
One of his solutions would be requesting prosecutors from both the county’s state’s attorney and U.S. Attorney of Maryland’s offices to assess some of the carjacking crimes because of the county’s proximity to D.C. and Virginia.
He also suggested the state provide tracking devices on vehicles for those who can’t afford them.
A device helped police track Baker’s vehicle after someone stole it in front of his house in Cheverly during his time as a state delegate from August 1994 to January 2003.
During that time, he said his vehicle was stolen three times.
After one occasion, law enforcement officials told Baker someone drove his vehicle, which had delegate plates, to New York and later parked it in D.C.
“We have to educate the public to [show] what these criminals are looking for,” he said. “If we know the criminal enterprise, then we need to make sure we are prosecuting them faster. If you can tell me where my car is, you should also be able to track those folks.”
County Council member Deni Taveras (D-District 2) of Adelphi said a crash this week involving nearly a dozen vehicles along Eastern Avenue at the D.C. border was related to a carjacking.
Prior to that incident, she said residents informed her about windows busted in several vehicles.
“It starts [with] a vision [to improve the community] and not just talking about it, but being about it,” Taveras said. “Rushern Baker has that vision because he’s already done it. You are standing on solid ground where that’s already happening.”
County officials led a discussion Thursday on ways to combat crime down the street from Towne Square at Creative Suitland.
Police Chief Malik Aziz acknowledged carjackings have become problematic and presented statistics from county police and municipal agencies from Jan. 1-April 7, 2021.
Approximately 35 arrests occurred last year during that period, compared to 48 during the same time frame this year. In terms of this year, police detained 25 juveniles, 23 of them Black males. Only seven of them were arrested last year between January and April 7.
Aziz said one of the reasons for a spike in certain crimes is fewer officers applying to the department, which currently has 1,464 officers — well short of the 1,786 the county is budgeted for.
“We need as many police officers as it takes to get the job done,” he said.