Beginning Nov. 1, Rockville and Gaithersburg cities’ police departments will take over full and primary response duties for police calls in their area.
The Montgomery County Police Department will assist on priority calls for service, Chief Marcus Jones told members of the county council’s public safety committee Monday that it was imperative for him to make staffing changes due to all the vacancies in the department.
The police force currently has 176 unfilled positions. That has affected response time, which was about eight-and-a-half minutes in 2021 and nine minutes and 20 seconds last year.
“This is the canary in the coal mine. The canary is dead,” Susan J. Farag, county legislative analyst, said of the staffing shortage.
Starting next month, six county officers who were assigned to Rockville City will be reassigned, three to Bethesda and three to Wheaton.
In Gaithersburg, two police beats will be pulled from the western end of the city, which includes the Kentlands, the area around Muddy Branch Road and the Downtown Crown area.
Those officers will patrol “primarily Montgomery Village,” Jones said.
Also, current officers who wish to be reassigned to specialized units like detective or K9, will only be able to if there are enough assigned patrol officers in the department.
Jones stressed, “We are not leaving” Rockville or Gaithersburg.
“The patrol services bureau, in my opinion, has been bleeding for a long time,” said Councilmember Dawn Luedtke, who sits on the public safety committee.
Rockville City Police Chief Victor Brito said the change will impact their residents, mostly when it comes to responding to non-priority calls.
Rockville has 66 officers and six vacancies. Gaithersburg has 63 officers and would like a few more.
Gaithersburg Chief Mark Sroka said his department will be slower to respond to non-priority calls, and added, “What’s a non-priority call to me is not necessarily a non-priority” to the person who called for help.
Councilmember Sidney Katz, chair of the committee, agreed with the scheduling changes. “It’s a change that should have come a long time ago, candidly.”
Councilmember Kristin Mink also agreed. “Makes sense, makes a lot of sense,” she said.
Jones predicted that officer vacancies will grow rather than decrease.
A new $20,000 signing bonus was adopted in the county, and that has motivated more people to apply to be a police officer.
However, so far there have been about 300 applicants for the winter police academy training. Several years ago, thousands used to apply, according to Montgomery County Police Assistant Chief Willie Parker-Loan.