MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (7News) — Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy assembled a press conference Thursday to reveal he has commissioned a task force to quash a wide range of crimes in Downtown Silver Spring.
McCarthy's remarks immediately followed a bond review hearing for Dakari Thomas, 18, of Silver Spring. Thomas stands accused of fatally stabbing Getro Banamina, 19, during a botched drug deal. It transpired in front of a luxury apartment building around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“I think the reason I’m talking about this today is because this incident happened exactly where our focus has been," said McCarthy. “The dangers have been increasing in Downtown Silver Spring.”
In early September, Montgomery County Police and the State's Attorney's Office joined forces and launched the Crime Suppression Task Force. It consists of several prosecutors and cops, primarily from the third district, which covers Downtown Silver Spring.
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“I can’t go into all the different efforts that are being made, but I can tell you we’re using cameras. We’re using uniformed police officers," McCarthy divulged. “We are going to hold people accountable if they de-stabilize our community, and that’s what’s going on down there right now.”
As an example, McCarthy shared that Veterans Plaza, which is currently home to a winter ice skating rink, had become an open-air drug market in the summer and early fall.
“People were openly dealing drugs in that civic center area... At one point in time, the [third district] captain actually set up a recruitment station right in the middle of the plaza. It said, 'recruiting new officers for Montgomery County Police,' as a way of discouraging people from coming in.”
According to McCarthy, officials had to give police the green light to flex their muscles, and in turn, return the order to Veterans Plaza.
“The police need trespass authority from the Civic Center to order these people off the property. We have it now. We didn’t always have it. That’s a change in the last couple of months. We’ve broadened and gotten more authority given to the police to be more proactive in how we’re policing that particular area.”
However, the problem is not exclusive to narcotics or Veterans Plaza. Shoplifting is rampant too, per McCarthy.
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“7-Eleven closed down, basically because of theft... Some of the stores are really being heavily pilfered and a lot of thefts are going on... The vacancy rates are going up because of this.”
On Wednesday — in response to a question about shoplifting at local Safeway grocery stores — Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) stated stores do not need to call the police on thieves. McCarthy has a different take.
“Information is power," McCarthy opined. "We have the same conversation when it comes to hate incidents and things like that in the community. How do we deal with hate or bias incidents if we don’t know about them? I think you need to have the intelligence to then deploy the resources and know what you need to do to make it safer.”
Reporters asked McCarthy if the Montgomery County Council, which has been outspoken on the topic of police reform, has shown interest in the Crime Suppression Task Force.
“In the county council, the people I communicate mostly with are the people on the Public Safety Committee, and that’s Mr. Hucker, Mr. Albornoz, and Mr. Katz. We speak regularly,"
7News reporter Kevin Lewis asked if Executive Elrich has also been in communication with the task force.
“I’ve talked with Earl Stoddard from the Executive’s Office. I’ve not talked directly with the county executive," McCarthy shared. "I did talk with Earl Stoddard who’s been marvelous. Mr. Stoddard is a great resource for us here in Montgomery County.”
Like most complex issues, there are a wide variety of opinions on best practices to curb crime in Downtown Silver Spring. McCarthy said he is open to most ideas, but one, in particular, rubbed him the wrong way.
“One suggestion is we reduce the presence of police by 50% in the central business district of Silver Spring. That absolutely makes no sense, in light of what we’re facing right now in Silver Spring."
McCarthy emphatically stated that police presence in Downtown Silver Spring has never dwindled. In fact, he said it is larger than before. He argued that anyone saying otherwise is engaging in “misinformation."
“Look, I’ve been a resident of this county long enough to know that we’ve revitalized Silver Spring. We’re not going to lose Silver Spring to a criminal element... It’s hundreds of millions of dollars put into Downtown Silver Spring.”
To date, the Crime Suppression Task Force has brought 10 indictments to court, many of those being drug-related. It has identified 21 other so-called targets, mostly men from neighboring jurisdictions like DC and Prince George's County.
“We have additionally made arrests for robbery, armed robbery, second-degree burglary, and we’ve had minors who’ve been in possession of handguns," McCarthy shared. "And when those arrests come and they’re made, I have people who will hold them accountable for what they’re doing.”
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McCarthy stressed that despite the task force's positive strides, residents and businesses are frustrated and fearful.
“These are the kinds of events that have caused the community to come together and they’re demanding that we do better, and they have a right to demand that we do better. And I’m telling you that we’re going to do everything we can, working with the police, working with all the elected officials in Montgomery County, to bring some sense to what’s going on in Downtown Silver Spring."