2022 | Opinion

Opinion: Adding cameras, police officers in Silver Spring ignores the big picture on crime

State's attorney must understand root causes in working with the community

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Montgomery County is experiencing a 30-year high in homicides and a spike in carjackings and crimes involving handguns. We need to focus our resources on violent crime.

Concerningly, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy is willing to go to war with our community over the distribution of drugs and petty shoplifting, but not against the violence that genuinely makes our community less safe.

When recently presented with the opportunity to put forward his policies on legalization of cannabis during a summit that aired on Facebook, he did not participate.

Instead of tackling the real issues and their root causes, instead of leading by problem solving and creating partnerships with the community and police, he is choosing to focus on Silver Spring — a region of our county with notable racial and ethnic diversity — while crime continues to surge across the county at large. 

This mentality is unacceptable and why I am running for Montgomery County state’s attorney in 2022. 

McCarthy’s approach to the recent spike in crime in downtown Silver Spring is woefully outdated and misguided. He has proposed having greater surveillance through cameras and increased presence of uniformed police officers, arguing that such efforts would deter theft and drug distribution.

This is the entirely wrong approach, and it is likely to do more harm than good. Research and reporting show that “misdemeanor arrests are more reflective of police presence than the total number of infractions committed in an area,” according to a piece in The Atlantic.

When we increase police presence and continue to build a culture of incarceration, we increase the number of “criminals” arrested — particularly people of color, given the disproportionate impact of policing along racial lines — but we fail to actually reduce crime.

While we may put more people behind bars, we don’t solve the actual issues at hand, be it economic insecurity or a lack of appropriate mental health infrastructure. Increasing surveillance, policing, and criminalization does nothing to help communities and stands to instead perpetuate far too much harm.

We must work with our community, not treat them as the enemy. My administration will look at the root causes of crime, not just the crime itself, in determining how to keep our community safe.

So far, the so-called “solutions” from McCarthy’s state’s attorney’s office to reduce crime in downtown Silver Spring have been limited to increased surveillance and a heavy police presence. Not only have these tactics been used already — with disproportionate impacts to communities of color — but they demonstrate a lack of innovation and awareness of the community served by the office.

In fact, there are many who could see the state’s attorney’s actions as an escalation, which is not the right approach to keep our community safe. 

To be clear, I support the rule of law and our excellent police officers. They face a difficult and often thankless job. Rhetoric that furthers an “us versus them” mentality only makes their job harder and our communities less safe.

My administration will address community safety and stability without devaluing our community or further undermining faith in our criminal justice system. Silver Spring deserves respect, and our community deserves better. 

Tom DeGonia of Olney is a candidate for Montgomery County state’s attorney.