Members of the Prince George’s County Maryland Police Department’s Homicide and Cold Case units rarely have idle time to put their feet up on a desk or table. When others might be chewing the fat, they are involved in serious talk concerning cases that, oftentimes, leave the community horrified and surviving family members stunned. They are the movers and shakers within a fast-paced and very busy police department that is located on the outskirts of Washington D.C.
The Homicide Division is composed of a total of 35 detectives, one sergeant, and four investigators including the Cold Case Unit. Separately or together, they are a dynamic component within the agency. The civilian staff compliments the units, and a civilian Death Investigator works cases involving accidental and suspicious deaths as well as suicides. Consequently, the detectives are available to follow up on the murder cases.
It is not uncommon for detectives to be dealing with homicides back to back. Tirelessly, they work many long hours that are often too many to count. Recently, the homicide detectives worked non-stop, around-the-clock, in pursuing leads and investigating the murder of Maryland State Trooper Wesley Brown whose end of watch was June 11, 2010. Trooper Brown was shot multiple times after he escorted a disorderly and non-paying patron out of a restaurant where he was working off-duty.
The closure rate of The Prince George’s County Police Homicide Unit is 15 percent higher than the national average and, for the overall year ending in 2009, it was 79 percent. The efforts of this unit did not go unnoticed. On June 23, 2010, in an unprecedented move, Chief Roberto Hylton awarded every member of the unit the “Chief’s Award” — the highest departmental award the Chief can bestow.
Lt. William Rayle, Lt. Marc Alexander, Sgt. Lakina Webster, Sgt. William Wilson, Sgt. Charles Perry, Sgt. Brian Reilly, Det. Ben Brown, Det. Michael Barnhardt,, Det. Anthony Schartner, Det. William Watts, Det. Harold Black, Det. Kerry Jernigan, Det. Michael Delaney, Det. Paul Dougherty, Det. Andre Brooks, Det. Wayne Martin, Det. David Robinson, and Det. Thomas Hollowell were all recognized for their extraordinary success in solving difficult cases that involved weighty investigations. Civilian personnel were also recognized.
“I take great pleasure in recognizing these fine men and women for their superior work ethic. Their efforts exemplify the courage and dedication needed for our community to prosper without the crippling effects of crime, Chief Hylton said.
In 2009, Chief Hylton demonstrated his commitment to solving homicides by establishing the Cold Case Unit. Additionally, he allocated the necessary operational staff.
“The difference is the team effort in the department as a whole. Everyone has a commitment towards this,” said Captain Michael Straughan, Assistant Commander of the Criminal Investigations Division, who has been associated with the Homicide Unit since 1996. He was a homicide detective for ten years, led the squad as a Sergeant, and he was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant of the unit. Now, as the Assistant Commander of the Criminal Investigations Division, he is able to effectively provide notable leadership.
“It helps to understand what they do. It helps lead us to guide them,” said Straughan, who also acknowledged the importance of bringing some resolution to the families.
“Your job is to bring closure to this case and justice to a family that has endured a loss,” he said. In the expansive county that borders the nation’s Capitol and where criminals may easily be mobile from one jurisdiction to the next, the homicide unit frequently deals with some horrific cases. “They deal with the worse of the worst—killers, tragedy, and death. That alone takes a good part of you. It takes extraordinary resilience and effort,” Captain Straughan said.
There often are not enough hours in the day or night for the challenges they face in the metropolitan area. As any cop knows, homicide detectives work an incredible amount of hours. They may go 72 hours without stopping, as they did in Trooper Brown’s case. “That alone is an enormous amount of dedication. They do it because they love what they do,” Captain Straughan said. He admits that the one big break or positive lead can turn a case around to, once again, escalate the level of motivation. “You have to keep moving and go forward. You get those positive breaks that keep you going and get you up again. You have wins and losses,” he said.
Captain Straughan admits that it is essential to find a balance between work and family in the business of homicide investigations. “When you slice it all down, time away from your family is what it is. You have to want to do this. You cannot be a homicide detective and successful unless you have a desire to do it. You have to want to put in the hours and make the sacrifice to do the job,” he said.
The sacrifices made by the Prince George’s County Homicide Unit have paid off, and the fruits of their labor have produced a significant uptake in the closure rate. The detectives’ work ethic has been exemplary as evidenced by the formal and special recognition from the Chief.