COLLEGE PARK – A rising awareness of violent crime in College Park has students and residents wondering just who is responsible for their safety and how well different police departments communicate with each other.
The fatal off-campus stabbing of University of Maryland student Brandon Malstrom Nov. 10, and the arrests of two men unaffiliated with the university, has called attention to safety and security issues on and around campus.
As many as five police agencies have some jurisdiction over the areas on and around campus, with campus and county police having the most control. That combination has created confusion and has some calling for the creation of a city police force, and others calling for police to pool their resources.
Motor vehicle theft in the area has jumped from 28 cars stolen in 2000 to 118 in 2001, while aggravated assault has jumped from 15 in 2000 to 24 in 2001, according to campus police statistics.
Virtually all those incidents happened on campus.
Jeffrey Smith, a College Park resident and 1995 Maryland graduate remembers walking around campus and seeing different uniforms and vehicles for the State, Metro, County, Park and University police.
At a public forum on safety of the Route 1 corridor Thursday, Smith said alternatives to a new city police force should be explored to immediately address College Park safety issues.
“I’m not for or against the idea (of a city police force). I think there are a number of avenues we should be exploring before,” Smith said. “I think that if we have the resources and we have better coordination . . . I think that will be effective.”
Campus police don’t have jurisdictional power over all of College Park.
“By law, the University of Maryland Police Department has jurisdiction over property owned and operated by the university,” said Maj. Cathy Atwell, University Police spokeswoman. “In addition, the university has a concurrent jurisdiction agreement for some areas surrounding the university.”
The 20-year-old agreement gives Prince George’s County Police primary jurisdiction over the city of College Park. But, because campus and county jurisdictions overlap, calls for police assistance are often referred to the other department.
“Communication is one of the areas that can always get better,” Atwell said.
Eric Olson, a College Park Council member said he often hears of students and residents calling University Police and being directed to County Police or vice versa. The result, he said, can be a delayed response to a non-emergency call or no response at all.
“Over the last several years we have worked to increase communication between the various police agencies. I think the communication has improved some. I think – from what I’m hearing – we can work on doing better,” Olson said.
University of Maryland President C.D. Mote Jr. initiated a seven-person task force to address the issue of safety in the area and to develop long-term solutions.
The task force was created after Malstrom’s death and will include representatives of law enforcement, College Park residents and university students and administrators.
“I think the communication is good but there has to be an ownership,” said Col. David Mitchell, State Police superintendent, who was asked by Mote to head the Safety and Security Team task force.
Although Maryland State Police have an office in College Park, they do not patrol the area unless the Prince George’s County Police Department, which has primary jurisdiction, asks for help.
“The only time we have interaction with Prince George’s County and campus police is if there’s a game situation,” said Sgt. Thornnie Ralph, spokesman for the Maryland State Police.
Similarly, Metro Transit Police doesn’t get involved in College Park situations very often.
“Metro Transit Police Officers have jurisdiction and arrest powers throughout the 1,500 square mile Transit Zone, that includes Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for crimes that occur on or against Transit Authority facilities,” according to the Metro Web site.
Prince George’s County Police Department did not comment for this article.