County Council Member Will Jawando speaks at the White Oak community listening session on Thursday. Credit: Apps Bichu

This post was updated Thursday at 2:45 p.m. to include a statement by The Enclave’s management officials, Rose Valley Management.

A number of residents expressed a growing sense of feeling unsafe and called for increased and improved police enforcement during a listening session Thursday evening centered on White Oak. 

Around 150 people gathered at the White Oak Community Recreational Center for a forum prompted by two high-profile homicides in Silver Spring last month. 

On Dec. 8, gas station attendant Ayalew Wondimu, 61, was fatally shot in White Oak, and a subsequent search of the suspect’s apartment in the nearby Enclave complex led to the discovery of the decomposing remains of a pregnant woman, Denise Middleton. Police Commander David McBain said the suspect, Torrey Moore, was arrested quickly due in part to the help of apartment complex residents.

The second incident was the Dec. 21 fatal shooting of 62-year-old Charles Reynolds, who had gone out to dinner with his family in downtown Silver Spring and was shot in a parking garage on Wayne Avenue. Police said no suspects have been identified. 

County Council Member Kristin Mink (D-Dist. 5) and McBain shared data showing rising violent crime in the area. Firearm-related violence in White Oak increased by 41% in 2021 and 20% in 2022, according to slides shared by Mink. While assaults in Montgomery County saw a dramatic spike in 2021, as of 2022, they were returning to pre-pandemic levels. 

Advertisement

Patricia Lucas, a resident of the Hillandale community in Silver Spring, told panelists that she called for help regarding multiple incidents in her neighborhood over the last few months and was rudely dismissed by dispatchers.

“The dispatcher gets annoyed that I’m calling. … In one situation I was told, ‘Are you the same old lady that keeps calling us all the time?’” Lucas said.

Lucas asked how she could improve communication with the police department and avoid situations like the one she described.

Advertisement

McBain said police can look into the calls where Lucas said she was dismissed. “We prioritize calls for service. More serious crimes are handled immediately,” he said. “We do hold some calls that we eventually try to get to those calls.”

But even when a call is put off, McBain said that police call back to make sure complainants are told their call will be addressed later.

An unidentified speaker asked if response rates were affected by an equity gap.

Advertisement

McBain denied there was an issue in the way police dispatchers respond to calls and said in the 70,000 events police responded to in Silver Spring last year, the reports were scattered across different neighborhoods, from White Oak to Burtonsville, without any other factors playing a role.

Some residents also alleged unsanitary living conditions in their apartment complexes. An Enclave apartment resident who identified himself as Immanuel cited issues such as mice, roaches, lack of security and an unsupportive management.

“Regardless of the condition, I’m going to live in this building. I want to wake up tomorrow so that we can do something about it. We can rally behind and get the word out,” he said.

Advertisement

The Enclave’s building management Rose Valley Management, wrote in an email statement to Bethesda Beat, “We are sympathetic to the concerns of our residents considering the unfortunate situation in the White Oak community. With regards to all community safety, we actively cooperate with local law authorities in all of their efforts, and we encourage our residents to do the same.”

Rose Valley Management officials stated they maintained a rotating schedule of preventative maintenance, janitorial and pest control, and in the case of residents experiencing maintenance concerns, they were welcome to reach out to the management office and the maintenance team for assistance.

“Public safety is impacted by many, many different things,” Mink said. “We are never going to have the resources to be able to station a police officer on every single corner, in every single stairwell, in every single shop. … So, we have to be looking at preventative measures and making sure that we are tapping into other ways that the police don’t need to respond to as many incidents and their time is well spent. So [looking at issues] from mental health to way more oversight, community building, these are all different aspects of public safety that we welcome discourse on.”

Advertisement

Council member Will Jawando said it was “unfortunate that we’re here because of some very tragic incidents that have happened in our community.”

He said conversations about the community’s experiences with safety issues were important.

“That’s why you see so many people here. That’s why you see all of us officials and others who are here, your representatives, because everyone deserves to feel and be safe. We all believe that,” Jawando said. “The question is: How do we put together the right community support and [be] working with law enforcement and working with the community and working with all our government agencies to make sure that we’re doing that for every resident?”

Advertisement

 County Councilmember Sidney Katz, chair of the Public Safety Committee; state Sen. Will Smith and state Dels. Lorig Charkoudian and David Moon were also on the panel.

Apps Bichu reports on growth and justice. She can be reached at apps.bichu@bethesdamagazine.com