After the pandemic, Silver Spring’s Quarry House Tavern co-owner Jackie Greenbaum said she struggled to gain solid footing financially. Now, she fears a proposed safety bill might shut her business down for good.
Bill 14-23, sponsored by Montgomery County Council President Evan Glass at the request of County Executive Marc Elrich, is a late-night safety plan introduced Feb. 28. A Public Safety Committee work session is scheduled for Monday.
The bill would apply to yet-to-be-determined “priority” police response areas and require certain businesses, such as those that serve or sell alcohol or tobacco products between midnight and 6 a.m., to develop safety plans and obtain police approval for late-night operation. The safety plan would depend on the business and could include measures such as lights, cameras, security personnel and training.
“I am strongly opposed to it,” Greenbaum said. “It is a shifting of public responsibility of government for public safety to private citizens and private businesses. There’s no–that I’m aware of–no strong evidence of any kind or any evidence that I’ve seen, any statistics, etcetera that correlate later hours and late night entablements and violent crime.”
Greenbaum is among a number of Silver Spring business owners who have voiced opposition to the bill, saying it inflicts costs on business owners that should be shouldered by the county. Other critics say the legislation’s impact is inequitable to business owners and patrons who are more likely to be people of color. But proponents say the legislation would give those same business owners and residents the peaceful environment all county residents deserve.
While the legislation will apply to businesses countywide, its impact will be most strongly felt in Silver Spring due to the volume of late night businesses in the area and the rise in recently reported crime.
Silver Spring has grown into a hub of entertainment and late-night activities within the county, but in recent months, it has also been affected by a spate of violence.
Elrich said the bill addresses the requests some business owners have made for some time.
“We are focused on and committed to reducing crime throughout Montgomery County. This initiative is a commonsense approach to public safety that neighboring residents and businesses have been requesting for quite a while,” Elrich said via email. “Many of the impacted areas from these businesses are in minority communities and the residents there, as everyone deserves in Montgomery County, should be able to find peace and quiet outside their homes during late night hours.”
The late-night safety legislation comes amid growing public concern over safety in Silver Spring, following the fatal shooting of a man at a Silver Spring parking garage on Dec. 21 and the fatal shooting of a gas station attendant Dec. 8 in White Oak, where a search of suspect Torrey Moore’s apartment led to police discovering the decomposed remains of a pregnant woman.
More recently, on Feb. 1, a woman was found slain after a welfare check at the Paddington Square Apartments in Silver Spring. A man was fatally shot in Bonifant Street on March 5, and a 20-year-old Takoma Park man was shot on March 7 in White Oak, with two men charged Tuesday in his homicide.
At a community listening session at White Oak in January, residents in attendance called for increased policing and safety measures in response to the earlier incidents. At the session, 3rd District Commander David McBain stated there were 70,000 events county police responded to in the police district of Silver Spring in 2022.
According to Data Montgomery, late night violent crime in downtown Silver Spring (located within the ZIP Code 20910) rose from 59 incidents in 2017 to 80 in 2022, while property crime incidents rose from 215 to 405.
Although business owners say they have witnessed a crime increase that needs to be addressed, this is not what they had in mind.
“Let the county reallocate the police officers that they do have from areas that are considered far safer–Potomac, other places where the crime rate is very low–to these districts, even at the risk of leaving less protection in areas where they’re used to having it,” Greenbaum said. “The allocation should be done of existing resources to the places that are high crime. It’s their job, not my job, and we are the victims.”
“The background of this [bill] is the county executive and council are moaning that they can’t staff the police, the police are understaffed,” she added. “Well, I’m sorry. Cry me a river. I have the same issues myself. That does not enable me with the fact that I cannot find sufficient staff levels to shift my responsibilities and my duties under the law and running the business and the various sorts of obligations I have to discharge.”
The Montgomery County Police force has been facing ongoing issues with its staffing, recruitment and retention of officers. A county report showed resignations and retirements of police officers increased 64% from 2021 to 2022. The police force has a current sworn officer vacancy rate of 10%, with 129 openings from 1,281 authorized officer positions.
Within the proposed bill, business owners could have to install video cameras inside and outside of their establishments and hire security.
Greenbaum said the implementation of a legislation like this is something she fears could ruin her business, as hiring security personnel could cost up to $50,000.
“There is a possibility that this bill would require us to have security guards, which … would break our back,” she said. “We absolutely cannot afford that, nor should we have to. It implies that somehow, we’re guilty when we’re victims. I need to protect my staff and customers from the street violence. We aren’t contributing to it in any way.”
At a Feb 13 press conference, Council Member Kate Stewart (D-District 4), said she would be advocating for a grant program to help businesses fund their safety plans.
“I’m going to be putting forward a grant program for small businesses so that they can create the safety plans, live up to them and also work with small businesses that are impacted by crime in our communities, because we know this is something that we have to do to support our small businesses to make sure they stay vibrant and [stay a] part of our community,” Stewart said during the conference.
In a statement to MoCo360, Stewart said she is currently working to advocate for an amendment to the proposed bill that will account for the grant program.
“Our businesses, particularly our small businesses, between COVID and other things have been hit really hard and we want to make sure that they survive,” Stewart said. “So, if we’re going to put in place these safety plans for late night businesses, I think we have to make sure that we’re also providing some assistance.”
Stewart also said she is exploring the possibility of providing assistance not just to the businesses that are required to do the safety plan, but also helping businesses adjacent to them or in the same areas that may have been impacted by crime.
There are also racial concerns on how the bill would affect establishments owned by people of color as police will have primary say on the approval process on if businesses can be open late.
“Historically police being involved in Black and brown communities has not been productive overall,” said Robert Veiga, co-chair of Silver Spring Justice Coalition, an organization aimed at eliminating violence and harm by police. “If you look at data from traffic enforcement, look at school resource officers, there are consequences for us overall.”
Veiga also said the bill seemed like an attack on Black and immigrant-owned businesses whose diverse customer base gathers to socialize primarily in the later hours of the day.
Young People for Progress, a Montgomery County-based community organizing and social justice organization, has also expressed opposition to the bill with concerns on its impact on business owners of diverse backgrounds and their customers.
“[The bill] is only in neighborhoods that already have a high police presence. These priority areas happen to have more people of color both as patrons and business owners—more middle-income folks,” said Danielle Blocker, founder and executive director for Young People for Progress. “So, it’s an additional expense and surveillance being applied to some neighborhoods with people and business owners of color over other neighborhoods with almost no oversight of the police if something goes wrong. It creates more barriers on young business owners, business owners of color, and working-class business owners in these areas.”
On March 14, there was a public hearing regarding the bill at the County Council meeting where Greenbaum and Veiga spoke in opposition but also where Jane Redicker, outgoing president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of the bill.
“This legislation, which will broaden safety protocols for all businesses which stay open late in areas that have experienced a high demand for police response, is an important first step in bringing a safe environment for all to enjoy,” Redicker said at the meeting. “We want all businesses to thrive. And we believe that assuring a safe and welcoming environment for everyone is key to a thriving business community, a thriving Silver Spring, and a thriving Montgomery County. Safe for those who live here, who work here, and who come here to enjoy the wonderful amenities we have to offer.”
Jason Miskiri, who owns Silver Spring’s The Breakfast Club (8240 Fenton St.), The Society Restaurant & Lounge (8229 Georgia Ave.) and The Angry Jerk (8223 Georgia Ave.), said there needs to be some kind of infrastructure in place for nightlife.
Miskiri was present with police and other county officials when the legislation was first announced at the Feb 13. conference. He spoke of his support for the bill at the time and said he himself invested money to help increase safety in the Silver Spring area and near his own restaurants.
“I applaud the leaders for this legislation. I think it’s great. We need to put it in place,” Miskiri said during the conference.
Although Miskiri said he’s not opposed to the bill, he said he would prefer something that didn’t place all the responsibility on the business owners and was more geared toward a communal effort addressing crime.
“I think we have to sit down the community, businesses, county, delegates and try to figure this thing out,” he said in a March interview. “We’re moving in the right direction; we just need to meet more. We have cameras up; we need some more lighting in some of the dark areas. I think if we do those type of things, we’ll be fine. We could have a thriving nightlife economy.”