A NEW MEASURE IN PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md.—an eastern suburban area of Washington—will halt residential construction if police, fire, and EMS response times and staff levels fail to meet targets between now and the end of 2006.

The county's police department is authorized to employ 1,420 sworn officers, but only about 1,250 are currently on the job, says council member Douglas J.J. Peters, the bill's author. The measure mandates increasing staff to 1,278 by Dec. 31, 2004; 1,349 by the end of 2005; and the full 1,420 by 2006. It also sets staffing targets for the fire department and maximum response times for police and fire calls. The targets will be monitored monthly, and if they fail to be met, plans for new developments will be put on hold. (Developments already under way will be allowed to continue.)

Peters says this measure sets achievable targets. He's hopeful that it will encourage cooperation between the county and developers. “We all need to work together to get public safety staffing up to par,” he says.

Area builders are concerned about response times, says Hamer Campbell, director of government affairs for the Maryland-National Capital BIA. But, he contends, halting construction fails to solve the problem. In fact, he says, it will handicap the county's ability to pay for new infrastructure and services. (Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill allowing the county to charge $12,000 per housing unit for school construction.)