Credit: Em Espey

This story was updated at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 4, 2023, to include more information.

County Executive Marc Elrich and county officials are considering adding a seventh police district in downtown Silver Spring, amid a spate of high-profile shootings in the area.

Elrich said in a news conference last week that a new police district would aim to create a more even load on police resources as the county continues to grow. County officials are examining the proposal now and will make a decision—which would locate the district in downtown Silver Spring—in the coming months, he said.

The current district that serves Silver Spring, District 3, is headquartered in White Oak.

During a news briefing on Wednesday, Elrich and Earl Stoddard, one of the county’s assistant chief administrative officers, said that the prospect of a new police station has been discussed for years. Stoddard added that county officials are currently completing a study to look at overall calls for service for law enforcement. The study should wrap up by early spring, Stoddard added.

Elrich added that a new police station in the county–not just in Silver Spring, but anywhere–could be a major recommendation. But it could also note the need for greater police staffing and other solutions, he said. Stoddard added the study is also looking at the current staffing levels of crime analysts, call takers and dispatchers.

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Those workers can be overwhelmed in areas like Silver Spring and Wheaton, Stoddard said.

“They end up having to do more dispatching, that can delay that dispatching if it’s not efficiently done,” Stoddard said. “So that’s part of the analysis, it is really going through the entire law enforcement [and] public safety process.”

Countywide last year, homicides fell 40% from record 2021 levels (at least 35 in 2021, and 21 in 2022) and violent crime against people also dipped by about 13% (6,101 incidents in 2021, down to  5,322 by late 2022). Property crimes increased 6% from 22,879 in 2021 to 24,311 by late 2022.

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However, downtown Silver Spring and the sprawling, census-designated area labeled Silver Spring have witnessed multiple notable shootings in recent months.

On Dec. 21, 62-year-old Charles Reynolds was depositing leftovers in his car after a family dinner and about to get ice cream when he was fatally shot in a parking garage at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street. The Summit Hills apartment complex, west of downtown, was the site of a nonfatal shooting Sunday and the fatal shooting Dec. 2 of 29-year-old Nathaniel Potts.

Farther from downtown, a man was shot Sunday in the 9200 block of New Hampshire Ave. On Dec. 8, gas station attendant Ayalew Wondimu, 61, was fatally shot in White Oak; the suspect is also alleged to have fatally shot his pregnant girlfriend, leaving her body for weeks at a nearby apartment complex.

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In one especially visible incident in October, Montgomery County police released video of two men engaged in a gun battle at Veterans Plaza.

Elrich said that a new police station would help address residents’ concerns about violent crime, but added that police vacancies were a major problem.

An increase in police pay has helped recruitment, but getting the police force fully staffed is a major priority, Elrich said. Vacancies are currently in the hundreds of officers, he said.

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“You need people and resources to solve this problem,” he said. “We can put more cameras out, and we will likely wind up putting more cameras out there. But you know, cameras are better at producing evidence than they are stopping a crime.”

Elrich then added that many people who are committing these crimes feel disconnected and don’t feel like they have an adequate stake in society at-large.

“Unraveling that and getting to what the underlying causes are — I could give you … simplistic, broad answers — but actually getting down to the community level where you’re actually able to help reach people before … they’ve been to this end of the world of violence and crime, that’s a hard thing to do,” Elrich said. “And there’s no clear path on how you get there.”

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Bethesda Beat will be exploring this issue further. If you have thoughts, insights or questions about the prospect of a seventh police district, please contact reporter Apps Bichu at apps.bichu@bethesdamagazine.com.