By Ajong Mbapndah L.
TAKOMA PARK, Md. – The reputation of Takoma Park as a relatively safe town for its residents may be under threat from incidents of theft that are driving up the crime rate.
Recently released data from the FBI revealed that Takoma Park had an overall crime rate of about 32 incidents per 1,000 inhabitants in 2012. The vast majority of the offenses were theft.
Statistics garnered from the 2012 Crime in the United States report released in September indicate that 555 crimes were reported last year in Takoma Park, which has a population of 17,185.
Theft accounted for 364, or almost two-thirds, of the city’s crimes. There also were 73 reported cases of burglary and 54 motor vehicle thefts. As a result, Takoma Park had a property crime rate of almost 29 offenses per 1,000 inhabitants.
In contrast, the city’s violent crime rate was just 3 offenses per 1,000 residents. Of the 64 violent crimes reported, 42 – or about two-thirds – were robberies. A bright side in the FBI report is that there were no incidents of murder or negligent manslaughter in Takoma Park last year.
Contacted to comment on the FBI report, Andrew Gucciardo, a crime analyst at the Takoma Park Police Department, said the city has seen a reduction in crime over the past five years.
Thefts from vehicles are the most common crime, he said. Gucciardo said that areas with frequent reports of such crimes are usually targeted with additional unmarked and marked police cars and that the community is put on alert.
Gucciardo recommended that residents always make sure car doors are locked and valuables removed, as targeted vehicles often have property in plain view. The Takoma Park Police Department is very open, and citizens are always encouraged to call anytime they see a crime or something suspicious, Gucciardo said.
Takoma Park is one of the cities that run their own police departments, a point of pride for Councilman Terry J.Seamans of Ward 4. The Takoma Park Police Department currently has 42 sworn officers and 12 civilian staff.
Is a force of 42 officers adequate to keep Takoma Park’s more than 17,000 residents safe? Seamans says yes, adding that Takoma Park compares favorably with other cities in its ratio of police to residents.
Takoma Park also fared better than several nearby cities on crime rates, according to the FBI data. The cities of Greenbelt, Laurel, Hyattsville and Bladensburg had crime rates higher than Takoma Park’s.
For example, the city of Hyattsville had an overall crime rate of almost 72 offenses per 1,000 residents. That includes nearly 6 violent crimes and 66 property crimes for every 1,000 Hyattsville residents.
Emmanuel Zelifac, who has lived in Takoma Park for the past seven years, said he has never been a victim of theft and knows only a few people who have. Compared with stories he hears from friends in neighboring towns, Zelifac said he felt safer living in Takoma Park.
Zelifac may have a point. At 32 offenses per 1,000 population, Takoma Park has a lower overall crime rate than cities such as Bladensburg (60 crimes per 1,000 residents) and Greenbelt (almost 49 crimes per 1,000 population).
However, some other nearby cities have crime rates lower than Takoma Park’s. For instance, for every 1,000 residents, New Carrollton had fewer than 20 crimes; Bowie, about 18 offenses; and Brentwood, just 11.
In addition to its Police Department’s efforts, Takoma Park is addressing crime in several ways.
Some residential buildings have their own security measures. These include security guards keeping watch and visitors signing in before visiting at some apartment complexes.
Stores like Shoppers on Newhampshire Avenue have security guards patrolling the premises during business hours. Other businesses have security cameras to deter theft and other criminal acts or make it easier to track down culprits.
Councilman Seamans said he wants to address the root causes of crime. He would like to see more progress to reduce unemployment and help young people get the training that will lead to good-paying jobs.