By Kevin O’Rourke
Merchants and residents in the downtown Germantown area will be getting a holiday present from District Five of the Montgomery County Police as the department will roll out a new police unit designed to address quality of life concerns in the area.
The unit, dubbed the Central Business District Unit or CBD, will officially begin on Sunday, Dec. 28, but the first day the team will be seen on the street will be Tuesday, Dec. 30.
The CBD will be comprised, at first, of five officers and a sergeant, but another shift will be added after the Police Academy graduations in the Spring.
According to Lieutenant Bob Ravida, the head of the unit, the CBD is a proactive team of officers that is tasked to work in the more urbanized area of Germantown, from Wisteria Drive north to Route 355, and Father Hurley Boulevard east to where Middlebrook Road curves up to Route 355, with an emphasis on the areas of Century Boulevard from Middlebrook Road to Aircraft Drive.
“They will have other responsibilities including The Milestone Shopping Center, and as they build out the Clarksburg Village area, the team will be working up in that area as well,” said Ravida.
Fifth District Commander David Gillespie said, “I am excited about the CBD unit being deployed and getting them out in the community because I believe that we will be able to make a big difference.”
Gillespie said that the CBD Unit has become necessary as growth in the area continues. “Germantown is very diverse, not just in population, but in terms of the amount of different kinds of retail and office space that is here and continues to grow exponentially. We have a number of new businesses and the traffic continues to grow.”
Ravida said, “As a police department we saw a need to get additional officers in to address those issues. There are a lot of calls for service from that area. The area makes up about 25 percent of our total calls for service district-wide.”
Gillespie sad, “We have had a number of complaints from the business community about issues that are happening after school and on weekends. We are going to work with the business community and the residential communities in the area to address these concerns.”
The unit which will be in patrol cars, or often on bike, or on foot will work with the businesses and other stakeholders in the area, such as Black Rock Center, the Germantown Library, and apartment complexes in the area, as well as the patrol new park, to address quality of life issues and other issues that might arise, said Ravida. He said members of the CBD unit will have the ability to mount their bikes on their patrol cars and chose to ride or drive them as needed.
The officers of the CBD unit will not be tethered to the radio and dispatched to calls of service through the vast areas of the Germantown Fifth District, but rather will be tasked to build a more personalized relationship with business owners in those areas, so what when there is an issue at a business and the radio call comes that officers will take that call rather than the random officer on a regular patrol shift.
“This team is focused community building to establish relationships with business owners, schools such as Seneca Valley High School, the library, and work on quality of life issues and making that area as crime free as possible,” said Ravida.
“It is very much a throw-back to the cop on the beat,” said Ravida, “but they will probably be on bike patrol. Each officer is going to be tasked with knowing all the business owners and principals for businesses in a sub-section of the district. When there is a call for service in that area, that officer or officers would respond. It is going to be more of a personalized relationship between those particular officers and the community. Hopefully, they will be able to get to know those business owners and the apartment complex managers, so that they will have a better working relationship versus an officer working a standard patrol shift, which is constantly rotating.”
Ravida said, “We will probably split that area up into quadrants, where each officer will keep logs and will be responsible for his quadrant. The great thing about this team is that because they are not a normal shift and patrol officer we can move them to wherever the needs arise. We can deploy them based on the feedback we are getting from the community and looking at our data on crime statistics.”
Ravida anticipates the unit will be on the beat from noon to 10:00 pm, during those hours when the businesses are most active, but that might change depending on what needs may arise. “It gives us a lot of flexibility to meet that community’s specific needs,” he said.
According to Ravida, members of the team have met with community members at chamber of commerce meetings and other local functions to get their input and access the needs of the community.
“We asked them, ‘What are your needs? What are you looking for from us? What hours? What problems are you having?’ We are not shooting blindly at this when we deploy this team, rather we are reacting to feedback that they’ve given us,” said Ravida.
That feedback included problems such as kids loitering after school, panhandlers coming into the businesses to bother customers or use facilities, and other quality of life issues.
“The public should absolutely see more officers in that area,” said Ravida. “Eventually we will have an additional 12 more officers, so there should be significant increase. There will be two extra shifts so there will be a lot more police presence in that central business area of Germantown.”