Efforts to make Montgomery County roads safer are underway. Four bills being considered by State lawmakers would change how the justice system handles reckless, negligent and aggressive driving across Maryland. The goal is to narrow in on people who consistently show no regard for others while on the road.
That a driver with a known history of reckless driving was able to harm a dedicated public servant like Sgt. Kepp is a tragedy. It is imperative to protect our police officers and our community from similar actions. That means getting tougher on drivers who have shown no indication that they will change their behaviors.
Senate Bills 939 and 941 and House Bills 1111 and 1160 would establish new benchmarks for reckless driving, including for anyone caught going more than 90 miles per hour. The bills would also clarify what constitutes aggressive driving. That could include ignoring lights and sirens from law enforcement, breaking the rules of the road while passing other cars on the right or left, and performing car tricks like drifting, peeling out, and doing donuts on the road. Thankfully, these car tricks and demonstrations have not killed anyone in Montgomery County, but we should not wait until that happens before changing the laws.
Another goal of these proposed laws is to force offenders into a court date. Right now, it is too easy for drivers to pay a fine and be back on the road, repeating dangerous behavior.
Since Sgt. Kepp’s injuries, my team has been at work with State elected leaders to get these changes enacted. I want to thank State Senator Nancy King and Delegate Greg Wims for introducing bills to address these issues. Their collaboration and work on behalf of everyone on the road is admirable.
Another strong advocate on this front is Sgt. Kepp himself. He has taken time out of his rehabilitation schedule to visit Annapolis and worked to pass targeted measures like these. He has said from the beginning, and reiterated during my weekly media briefing, that good will come from the incident that left him with two prosthetic legs. Strengthening community safety could be one of those positives to emerge from this tragedy. I appreciate his determination to return to work as soon as possible.
Public Safety and MCPD Hiring Update2023 crime trends from the Montgomery County Police Department. It showed that the proliferation of guns continues to be a major factor in the crimes impacting us. More than three out of every five homicides investigated in 2023, and almost one in every two robberies, involved a firearm.
Guns are more available than ever because of “ghost guns.” These weapons evade registration and purchase laws because they are built at home through a kit that comes in the mail or with the help of a 3-D printer. We need to eliminate the ability of people to buy ghost guns. It is something I would like to see the State continue to crack down on this year and the Federal government tackle as well.
Montgomery County’s largest increase in crime from 2022 to 2023 comes from auto thefts. Crime analysts attribute that to a safety flaw in some Hyundai and Kia vehicles. In the month of January alone, nearly 60 percent of the cars stolen in the County came from these two manufacturers. We have seen the crime rate rise in areas immediately around us, which also impacts Montgomery County.
My team and I are working tirelessly to bring those numbers down. We have launched new initiatives to help enhance our police response to crime. We initiated a pilot program, the “Drone as First Responder,” in Silver Spring and Wheaton. More locations will be added in the coming months. A drone is used when a crime is reported because it can arrive on the scene faster. I know that some people have concerns regarding privacy and drones, so I think it is important to note that they are not being used as surveillance and do not capture video prior to arriving at a scene. If the drone can locate a suspect, that person can be followed and provide officers with the information needed to apprehend that person.
Other technologies, like license plate readers, are helping our police department identify stolen cars. License plate readers now routinely scan plates. We have also added more public security cameras in high-traffic areas like parking garages and highly trafficked streets and finalized regulations on late-night safety plans for businesses—all in the name of greater public safety. The Late-Night Business Safety Plan Program is now listed on the County register. Written feedback on the regulations can be submitted to Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard by March 1 via email at Earl.Stoddard@montgomerycountymd.gov.
We also are making it a priority to add more police officers on the street. We now have a recruitment firm in place to attract more quality candidates. We are also working on other measures to take uniformed officers out of desk jobs and put them on patrol. We increased pay for police officers to make their salaries competitive in the region, and we provided $20,000 signing bonuses to attract more talented candidates to Montgomery County. We are asking people to risk their lives, so we could not keep them at the bottom of the pay scale for our area.
We also will review dropping the college degree requirement and integrating education requirements into training. Our college degree requirement is more than most jurisdictions and does not necessarily provide added value. We are changing County regulations to allow us to rehire former public safety employees. And we are pushing to drop State requirements for public safety applicants that prohibit hiring a person who admits to past marijuana use in the previous year, even though it is now legal in the State.
I want to send a clear signal that we have a changing department that wants to encourage people to build their public safety careers here. We are focused on community policing, and adding more officers is critical to fulfilling that goal and reducing crime. The shortage of officers is the biggest challenge we face. I went on a ride-along a couple of months ago, and one thing that was apparent was that the officers seemed to go from one call to another, which did not afford much time to simply be present and patrol. We have work to do, but we are moving forward with plans to improve public safety and help police officers do their jobs safely.
If you know someone you think would be a good fit with MCPD, check out this website to learn more about the police cadet program, becoming an officer candidate or filling another vital role as a public safety emergency communications specialist.
Black History Month Celebrations ContinueAllison Crockett and Uasuf Gueye will headline that Cultural Heritage free concert. Other concerts this month include:
- Sunday, Feb. 18, 1-2 p.m. Plum Gar CRC, Germantown
- Wednesday, Feb. 21, 11 a.m.-noon. Long Branch CRC, Silver Spring
- Friday, Feb. 23, 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. Marilyn J. Praisner CRC, Burtonsville
This week, the County shared with government employees a special presentation celebrating African Americans and the Arts. Rhythms of the drums, dance, chanting and song, and creations of life experiences through painting, sculptors, carving and other cultural artifacts have been and continue to be the essence of the history of African Americans. I am glad that we got to share this program with our employees. Performers incorporated the soundtrack of generations, including ancestors who suffered through slavery or helped lead a civil rights revolution. Music and the spoken word have been a window into the souls of songwriters, performers, writers, and poets who have helped so many people express themselves and articulate life.
Second Big AstraZeneca Announcement Since December
The Maryland Department of Commerce announced the news because a $500,000 conditional loan through the Advantage Maryland program will help finance the project. Montgomery County is contributing a $100,000 conditional grant. In addition, AstraZeneca will be eligible for other incentives based on the 150 jobs created by this project.
The new facility will focus on manufacturing next-generation CAR-T cell therapies. The work completed here will allow cancer clinical trials to be conducted around the world. Manufacturing is an area that many people do not associate with Montgomery County, but we are aggressively pursuing more manufacturing opportunities and hope for more successes like this.
This announcement comes on the heels of December's news that the company plans to lease nearly 200,000 square feet in the new Progress Labs industrial park in Gaithersburg for lab space and distribution. The company currently employs around 4,500 people in Montgomery County.
AstraZeneca can conduct its leading-edge cancer therapy anywhere on the planet and it has chosen to expand in Montgomery County. I believe the company and other life sciences companies realize our area's talent and opportunities. We are an integral part of the region’s life sciences industry, now a top three BioHealth hub. Supporting this expansion shows our commitment to helping innovative companies with their life-saving work.
I am glad that State leaders also recognize what an opportunity this is. I look forward to seeing the wonderful things that come out of this new chapter for AstraZeneca.
COVID-19 Cases Decreasing and Vaccines are Helping
There is also positive information to share about the vaccine. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control shows that using the latest COVID-19 vaccine helped increase protection against the disease by more than 50 percent. It was effective against the now dominant strain of JN.1. The study could not determine how long that protection helps someone before the vaccine begins to wane.
This study is another good reason to seek out every vaccination you are eligible for because it is not too late in the flu season to protect yourself and your family from all respiratory illnesses.
Seeking Volunteers to Assist Victims of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence
The County is seeking volunteers to join our next training session to help victims in the immediate aftermath and on a continuing basis through court hearings and other appointments.
Bilingual volunteers are encouraged to apply.
To participate, volunteers participate in an interview and then attend a training program. That training covers crisis intervention skills and the specialized knowledge of the emotional, medical and legal issues victims face. Volunteers must commit to serve for one year, in an on-call capacity. All volunteers must be at least 21 years of age, Montgomery County residents, have a valid driver’s license, and have immediate access to transportation.
Montgomery County appreciates the work of compassionate volunteers who dedicate their time to supporting survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. For more information about how to help or to arrange an interview, follow this link or call 240-777-1355.
Things to do in Montgomery County for Valentine’s Day
If you are looking for Valentine’s Day ideas that are not your typical “chocolates and a card” experiences, then check out visitmontgomery.com. The website is a wealth of information on everything from a good spot for dinner to fresh ideas on how to enjoy Montgomery County.Blogs detailing top places to explore in Montgomery County and how to celebrate your Valentine’s Day are updated regularly. Some tips will take you to more known places like a winery or Downtown Silver Spring for an event at the AFI Theatre. Other suggestions are less familiar and creative, like Yurt Camping or enjoying the Tastemakers Trail. Maybe it is still too cold to take up every suggestion, but it could inspire you to explore a part of Montgomery County you did not realize you were missing.
The Visit MoCo Adventure Planner is an interactive map you can explore on the Visit Montgomery website. You can learn how to download the app here. It includes golf courses, family activities, museums and more.
I hope you get to check out more of Montgomery County as the days get longer and we get closer to spring.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,