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Tom Fitzgerald

February 27, 2024

ROCKVILLE, Md. – “Very close” to a crisis. That’s how the president of Montgomery County’s Police Union describes the department’s problems hiring new officers.

The officer shortage comes as Maryland’s largest county has been riding a rising crime wave over the past several years.

The County Council held a hearing on police data Tuesday, but no one from the public turned out.

Despite being announced for weeks, nobody signed up to speak out. But union officials told FOX 5 it’s no coincidence that crime is up as police recruiting is down in Montgomery County, and they warn the problem is worsening.

The Montgomery County Police Department says they were down 128 officers at the beginning of 2024.

Now, the department is down 180 officers, according to the union.

Crime has been trending up for three years in a row in Montgomery County. Auto thefts are up 131%, and carjackings are up 28.6%.

The President of the Fraternal Order of Police – Lodge 35, Lee Holland, told FOX 5 that while crime is up, officer morale is down, and it’s hurt recruiting.

“When you have this negative sentiment out there, it discourages people from here and our best recruiters are the police officers that are here,” Holland said. “I keep telling the department that if morale is this low, it’s because of these bills.”

Recruit classes that used to attract 60-70 members now have 20 recruits. And while county council members recently created a $20,000 police recruit signing bonus, lawmakers concede to FOX 5 that more needs to be done.

“It is not just a money problem. If it were just a money problem … It would be easier to solve if it was just a money problem,” said Sidney Katz, chair of the Montgomery Council Public Safety Committee.

“This is obviously a regional issue, so we need all the things we can do here, whether it’s salaries, benefits, and also, it’s very expensive to live in Montgomery County, and we have to think about how we expand our housing supply,” added Kate Stewart, Montgomery County Council vice president.

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones wasn’t available to comment Tuesday, but Holland says morale has taken a hit as a result of council legislation the union sees as “anti-police.”

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