Weekly Message from the County Executive: Drones Already Making an Impact in Public Safety Assistance

County Executive Marc Elrich released the following community message on Friday, December 1:

Dear Friends,

I want to start this week by telling you about my visits to support Small Business Saturday. It was great to talk with business owners who were excited to tell me about their operations and their experiences working with Montgomery County Government.

While I was visiting Megamart in Gaithersburg, a resident approached me and thanked me for this weekly newsletter you are reading now. I really appreciated her telling me that she looks forward to it every week to help her learn about what is going in our community. She was very excited to thank me for consistently putting it out each week as you can see in this video.

Our newsletter is sent to hundreds of thousands of people each week. We know that many people share the newsletters with other people consistently. It comes about from hard work across every department within Montgomery County and I want to thank the staff that ensures it is published every week.

If you get value from this newsletter, please share it with others who could benefit. As many of you know, signing up for the newsletter is easy. It can be done by following this link. All that is needed is an email or phone number.

Thank you for continuing to seek new information about Montgomery County and how we are working to address critical issues and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Anti-Hate Task Force Meeting

I attended a meeting this week marking the conclusion of the Anti-Hate Task Force efforts. The group has been at work through the summer and fall bringing together people concerned about the number of hate incidents in our County. Representatives of the Latino, Black, Muslim, Jewish, Asian and the LGBTQ+ communities met regularly to discuss issues and bring topics to the larger group. In the last few months, concern grew as fighting in and around Israel prompted Islamophobia and anti-Semitic activity nationwide and locally. I was heartbroken by some of the stories I heard in which victims were too scared to report incidents to police. In this County that should never be the case. Dial 911 in an emergency or call police at 301-279-8000. There is also a Maryland Hate Crimes Hotline (1-800-637-6247) available between 8:30 and 5 p.m. weekdays. If you witness a hate crime and are able to record what’s happening from a safe distance that could help the victim immensely.

Montgomery County Police Department records of hate and bias incidents in the County show a total of 54 reports in October ranging from confrontations to graffiti and slurs. Montgomery County continually ranks as one of the most diverse communities in the nation. We are fortunate to draw from so many different cultures to make this a unique home. We must recommit to our efforts to support a welcoming environment to help drown out the hate.

We all want a safe and inclusive community. I appreciate the contributions of the task force.

I want to thank County Council President Evan Glass for his work organizing the task force. You can learn more about the work that has been done when the final report is shared with the Council on Dec. 5.

Public Health Approach to Youth Violence and Drug Overdoses

Similar to elsewhere in the region and country, we have seen statistics about the rise of violent crimes involving youth and, separately, the ongoing concern about substance misuse among young people. This week, a new report that combined data from the Montgomery County Police Department, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, Montgomery County Public Schools and our Department of Health and Human Services was shared with several County Council committees. Here is a link to that report.

Data from the Police Department show a spike in violent crimes involving school-age children 17 or younger. Juvenile arrest numbers grew more than 300 percent from Fiscal Year 2022 to FY23, going from 92 to 395.

Sadly, the number of teens victimized far outweigh those committing crimes. This can have long lasting impact on their lives. We have seen a more than 200 percent increase in victims of crime, from 215 reported in FY22 to 679 in FY23. These numbers are concerning.

We also have seen consistent issues with youth substance misuse over the last calendar year. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue statistics show an average of eight overdoses per month among 14-to-18 year-olds, with a high of 16 overdoses in April. Looking back nearly a year, MCFRS statistics show that there have been 109 opioid overdoses.

We are working on a variety of strategies to address these problems.

I have asked behavioral health leaders within the County’s Department of Health and Human Services to develop an approach that addresses the social issues like substance misuse and mental health issues that feed into youth violence.

We also cannot continue to ignore the role of generational poverty and its impact on the health of young people. Too many grow up in poverty feeling and believing that the doors to escape their situation are closed because of who they are; to believe that can be depressing and discouraging. Changing beliefs and outcomes will require efforts outside of our normal toolbox, but social conditions today are far from normal.

We are using the data we have collected to develop a public health approach and action plan to improve outcomes. This includes providing outreach and giving more families access to our community partners and wraparound services. I do not want to wait months to develop something that puts our focus solely on summer crime initiatives, like we typically see.

We must respond with a sense of urgency and help prevent more families being impacted by violence and substance misuse. This is a reason that I have asked that our public health and public safety teams increase their efforts and partnerships to address the social determinants of these problems.

If we just look at just one aspect of the issues we are facing, like gun violence, then we potentially miss the underlying issues–like mental health–that need to be addressed. By asking our partners to work together and fit the pieces of the puzzle together to solve this crisis, we have a better chance of helping more people and improving our community.

If you or someone you know is in need of immediate help to deal with a mental health or substance use crisis, call the County’s 24 Hour Crisis Center at 240-777-4000. The national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988 is another resource for calling or chatting from your mobile phone.

Drone Success Stories

Since we introduced you to the Montgomery County Police Department’s Drone as First Responder program last week, we already have two success stories.

A 911 call came from a retail store along Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring that has experienced more than a dozen recent shoplifting robberies. The drone was able to track a man leaving the store and boarding a bus. With that information, police were able to stop the bus and make an arrest. That investigation could close several shoplifting cases and help bring relief to store employees and business owners.

Another call for help came from police detectives along Eastern Avenue and Kennett Street in Silver Spring who witnessed cars being broken into. They lost sight of the suspects around East-West Highway, but a drone was able to arrive within 30 seconds and use infrared technology to track their body heat. Two men were arrested. Both had loaded weapons.

These are two examples of the many ways drones can be used to assist police when patrol officers cannot make it to a scene fast enough. Drones are routinely reaching a scene within two minutes of a call. They also have been deployed on disorderly conduct calls, an incident in which someone was missing from the hospital and to look for a vehicle suspected in a hit-and-run incident. I am glad to see these tools are being used effectively and I hope word spreads that drones are at work catching criminals and protecting our community.

The Montgomery County Police Department will be tracking each flight on the Drone as First Responder dashboard, which you can access by clicking this link.

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day was recognized this week.

I remember how mysterious and scary this virus was for too many years. I lost friends early on to AIDS and I remember all too the well the sense of dread and foreboding I felt when I learned that friends had been affected. The friends I lost are among the millions of people who could have likely been saved if this virus would have been treated seriously as it should have been from the onset.

It is good that we have made progress. It is bittersweet that it took this long.

Today, we have an entire generation of sexually active individuals who do not see HIV/AIDS as the “death sentence” that it used to be. That is good, but we must not just forget about AIDS either. It is still here. And can greatly impact an individual’s health–and their healthcare costs.

There are more than 3,500 people at last count here in Montgomery County living with HIV. The County’s rate of infection is 445 out of every 100,000 people, a high mark compared to AIDS rates in counties nationally, but in surrounding areas like Washington, D.C., and Prince George’s County, the rate of infection is more than twice as high. Here is a link to a map showing why AIDS/HIV should still be a high concern for Montgomery County and our entire region.

We must continue to focus, discuss and do community engagement regarding HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness. The County has launched an education and awareness program called “Do It For You”.  In October, the County added a Sexual Health and Wellness Center to the Upcounty Regional Service Center in Germantown. It provides free HIV rapid testing for anyone regardless of residency. The County also offers HIV testing and treatment at the Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring.

HIV/AIDS is key health equity issue. Black women account for more than 80 percent of those living with HIV and diagnosed with HIV over the past five years in Montgomery County. That is why testing is encouraged, even among people who might not think they are at high risk. There is also a medication available that reduces the risk of transmission.

I participated in the annual breakfast held on World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 to share progress on the County’s work on AIDS/HIV. This report was created to show how we are using “Ending the HIV Epidemic” grant money. It also details our priorities and how we are working toward our goals. The breakfast raised awareness and provided an opportunity for free HIV testing.

Encourage friends and family to learn the facts about HIV and how patients can still live long, healthy lives with successful treatments. Find out more at DoItForYouMC.org.

Great Seneca Transit Network

We had a ceremonial “groundpainting” of dedicated bus lanes at the Traville Parkway Transit Center this week to officially launch the development of the Great Seneca Transit NetworkYou can watch remarks we made ahead of that painting event here.

This is an exciting project that will help improve mobility in a smart way to help those who live, work and need to travel in Rockville and Gaithersburg, specifically the Shady Grove area.

The two express bus routes and dedicated bus lanes will connect the Shady Grove Metrorail Station directly to the Life Sciences Center and Universities at Shady Grove. They will reduce commute times significantly and allow for a more sustainable alternative to the single-occupancy, gas-powered vehicles that historically have congested our roads during rush hours.

The County has purchased 11 zero-emission buses, and once they are available, will be in operation along the first two corridors sometime during calendar year 2025. This program supports my aggressive Climate Action Plan goal of zero emissions by 2035.

The new buses will have the upgraded amenities associated with Ride On extRa branded buses such as comfortable seating, level boarding, free wi-fi and charging ports. Dedicating traffic lanes for bus use will enable signal priority so bus riders get an early green light. Transportation from the Shady Grove Station to Adventist Medical Center via the future Pink Line will take 21 minutes, less than half of the 43-minute commute on the existing route.

A little more than half the funding for this $26 million phase of the project is coming from the State. It shows how important State lawmakers believe this investment is. I want to thank the Montgomery County Delegation to the General Assembly for its support.

Since 2010, the workforce within this transit corridor has nearly doubled and these new routes will help support its growing public transportation needs. This new project addresses obstacles for furthering development. It provides transit capacity to replace what was lost when then-Governor Larry Hogan cancelled the proposed Corridor Cities Transitway in 2019, and it allows development to meet the requirements needed to move forward.

I have supported this project for years and expect it to help grow our biotech sector and spur continued economic development. It also will help us reach our ambitious climate goals.

The Great Seneca Transit Network reflects Montgomery County’s commitment to offering residents more transit options. Our innovative public transportation solutions will allow residents to have options they can rely on so fewer cars are on the road. This will cut down emissions and promoting sustainable commuting habits.

For more information on MCDOT programs and services, visit montgomerycountymd.gov/mcdot. At that site, you can find recaps of the public hearings that helped build this project.

Rosa Parks Day

Rosa Parks Day was commemorated this week.

This day is about honoring Rosa Parks and her brave act to stand up to racism. Ms. Parks was one of many people to defy the shortsighted and bigoted laws that dehumanized Black Americans. Laws that segregated schools, separated water fountains and led to unfair housing would eventually be abolished, but not before bold acts were needed.

On Dec. 1, 1955, Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., for a white man. Starting this week, each of our County Department of Transportation Ride On buses are displaying placards (see above) to detail the actions of Ms. Parks. We also are preparing a proclamation declaring December as “Rosa Parks Public Transportation Month.”

She is an American hero and she set an example showing that we all have the power to make change if we stand up for justice and equality.

John Lewis said it quite clearly: “Speak up, speak out, get in the way. Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” The actions, character and grace of Rosa Parks epitomize what getting into “Good Trouble” is all about.

Health Report

COVID-19 is still present in our community, but data show a low death rate and a low hospitalization rate. These are trends we have seen for more than a month.

There is a new variant on the rise, but so far, there is no indication that cases of COVID-19 from this new variant are as severe as what came from prior variants.

Although we are in a better place with COVID as compared to the past three holiday seasons, we must continue to be vigilant. COVID is still in our community and is still a very dangerous virus, especially to the elderly and immuno-compromised.

Remember to get vaccinated, consider wearing a mask when necessary and always consider the health of others.

Giving Tuesday 2023

This week we promoted Giving Tuesday.

On average, about 25 percent of nonprofit revenues come from donations received in December. As we have heard from many of our nonprofits, the needs and demands for the services they provide continue to outpace the revenues they bring in.

There are many charitable organizations across Montgomery County that benefitted from the generosity on display during this annual reminder to support the groups that help improve our community. The help comes in many forms. These range from helping provide food and gifts to helping those in need of specialized help. The support you showed on Giving Day, throughout this month or at any other time of year is appreciated many times over.

If you would like to see a listing of all the nonprofit organizations, the issues they work on and the communities they serve, visit infomontgomery.org. These organizations would not be able to sustain services without your support.

I hope you consider charitable giving this holiday season. If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, visit the Montgomery County Volunteer Center website to see who needs help.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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