Elrich: Perception of Crime in Downtown Silver Spring Is Worse Than Reality

Downtown Silver Spring is out of control with shootings, car racing, shoplifting and other crimes.

That is the perception, agreed County Executive Marc Elrich. But it is not reality, he and the Montgomery County Police stressed.

“The perception of crime in Silver Spring is still there. It’s still real,” Elrich said during his weekly news briefing Thursday. “There’s still more crime than anyone of us would like,” but it is not as intense as some believe, he said.

There’s been lots of talk and news reports about both Starbucks and Loyalty bookstore having moved off Ellsworth Drive. But people don’t mention both stores stayed in the downtown area, each moving just a few blocks away, Elrich said.

Some residents point to stores leaving the area as evidence that crime is hurting businesses, but County Chief Administrative Officer Rich Madaleno disputed that. Yes, Starbucks vacated Ellsworth Drive, but it is opening a much larger store in the nearby Blairs Shopping Center by the Silver Spring Transit Center.

Starbucks “lease is coming up,” he noted, adding management there “has not indicated to us” that it was moving due to crime despite a report in the news from “a low-level employee” that was the reason, Madaleno said.

Loyalty Bookstore moved off Ellsworth Drive in February, but it opened nearby at Georgia and Gist avenues in a joint venture with the coffee shop Bump N’ Grind.

When it comes to crime in Silver Spring, one official pointed out, it is important to remember that there are nine zip code addresses in Silver Spring, and the crime that makes the news happens all over the area.

According to Commander David McBain from the 3rd District, which covers Downtown Silver Spring, police receive the most calls for Downtown Silver Spring than anywhere else in the county. In 2023, there was an average of 117 request for service calls each day.

In the first two months of 2024, the number of calls increased, jumping from 7,600 in 2023 to 7860 in 2024, McBain said during a meeting with Safe Silver Spring on Feb. 28.

Aggravated assaults are increasing while auto thefts are dropping, he said. Burglaries, both commercial and residential, decreased 24% during the first two months of this year as compared to the same time period last year. “There’s been an uptick in theft from autos” of about 27%, he said.

There have been no homicides so far this year in the downtown area while there were two in 2023, McBain said.

And as for the large crowd gatherings that include car races, police say they have stopped many more before they even began.

According to McBain, the police department really beefed up its coverage of the downtown area, despite the police force lack of success in hiring enough officers.

High visibility traffic units have begun patrolling the area, especially along Georgia Avenue from Washington, D.C. to 16th Street and Colesville Road.

SWAT officers are assisting at the Silver Spring Metro station and at the intersections of Wayne and Colesville, Colesville and Georgia, Ellsworth and Fenton and Georgia and Sligo, according to McBain.

Also, a drone as a first responder program answers 911 calls, often arriving at the scene before officers.

Meanwhile, county council members are discussing a proposal that would restrict late night hours at some establishments, including hookah lounges. Many calls for service come between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. at these areas, said Capt. David Reed.

According to McBain, the extra surveillance and traffic stops enabled the police to seize 30 ghost guns from people in the Downtown Silver Spring area and a total of almost 300 guns.

“So, we’ve done a lot of work to try to get that image of Silver Spring changed,” Elrich said.

Meanwhile many new stores are about to open.

Gold’s Gym is expected to open soon at the former site of Washington Sports Club on Ellsworth Drive. Chido’s, a Tex Mex grill, is planning to open this summer where the Eleanor was on Ellsworth Drive. Roaming Rooster is preparing to open at the former Flip’d by IHOP site.

Outback Steakhouse is about to fill the space on Colesville where Not Your Average Joe’s had been. Java Nation recently opened on Wayne Avenue.

Besides restaurants, the Silver Spring Recreation and Aquatic Center opened on Apple Avenue, a grocery store is planned as is a large residential-commercial business complex.

A residential tower atop the Ellsworth Place Mall is before the Montgomery County Planning Board. Plans include up to 450 dwelling units and 400,000 square feet of commercial space with a lobby entrance facing Colesville Road.

Plans also in the works include Atwell on Spring, which is a redevelopment of the former Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission on 8787 Georgia Avenue.

According to the real estate company Bozzuto, the mixed-use project is expected to include two 7-story residential buildings with ground floor retail. Besides 375 apartments, Mom’s Organic Market will be located there and will anchor the Georgia Avenue and Spring Street corner.

Photos by Tommy Tucker

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