Neighbors Allege Drug Dealing and Disorder at Eastern Market Metro Park

Neighbors Allege Drug Dealing and Disorder at Eastern Market Metro Park

by Larry Janezich

Thursday night, a dozen residents of the neighborhood just north of the northeast portion of Metro Plaza Park (where the “guerilla playground” is located) turned out for a PSA 107 meeting to complain about alleged increased criminal drug activity in the park.  The diagonal walk across the park separates an ad hoc children’s playground from what neighbors allege is an ongoing drug market and continuing public nuisance.  The latter issue refers to non-criminal quality of life issues concerning overnight sleeping in the park, in nearby yards, on porches and in unlocked cars; trash and refuse accumulation, and harassment of women who walk through the park.

According to residents, the ordinary crowd of homeless people who use the park has recently witnessed the arrival of a “new element” in the park– that is, people who appear to be selling drugs and encouraging disorderly behavior.

Neighbors say that the advice given in previous PSA 107 meetings to deal with such problems – to “call 911” – has not helped, and that when the “911 priority list” enabled officers to respond, the response often resulted in no action with officers citing “lack of jurisdiction” (mistakenly believing US Park Service has responsibility), “DC has no anti-loitering law,” and “it’s not really illegal to sell synthetic marijuana.”

Lt. Eddie Fowler, MPD’s representative at the meeting, called the description of the activities “definitely unacceptable” and said he would call in the MPD vice unit and in addition, detail an officer on each shift to keep tabs on the park.

The neighbors also expressed concern about the larger problem which goes beyond the ability of MPD to solve.  For example, clearing the park of loiterers serves to drive them into the adjacent community, leaving unanswered the question of how to address this problem in a meaningful way.  Several neighbors expressed support for a community meeting involving various stakeholders:  the MPD, neighboring fast-food business whose refuse contributes trash, Community Connections, and other city services.  The coordination of such a meeting would seem to fall under the auspices of ANC 6B – particularly those commissioners whose Single Member Districts include or border the Plaza (in this case, Commissioners Frishberg, Pate and Oldenburg).

Fowler said that people are attracted to the area for many reasons, and if one of those reasons is lack of police presence, MPD would address that.  (By Friday morning, there was evidence of a greater police presence in and near the park.)

Carl Reeverts, 9th street resident, noted the proposed $42 million redesign of the Metro Plaza Park currently in the final stages of design, and asserted that the success of fulfilling the promise of the space becoming a community square will depend on its safety, usability, and comfort – and that failure of any of these will keep the park from being used, saying ‘without  maintenance, spending $42 million will not be a good investment.”

Only one ANC6B Commissioner was present for the meeting – Kirsten Oldenburg whose SMD ANC6B04 borders the east and much of the south sides of the park.  Oldenburg left the meeting during the discussion and was not present for the part of the meeting where community action was discussed.

15 Comments

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15 responses to “Neighbors Allege Drug Dealing and Disorder at Eastern Market Metro Park

  1. J.E.Jones

    I complained to dave garrison about the “guerilla playground” some time again, simply because it looked so junky- so I am not surprised that having something like that there might be a natural draw for others to accumulate and hang out.- getting rid of loitering in that area in the evening should probably start with a complete cleaning out – making the less desirable visitors a lot more noticeable and less welcome.

  2. Arthur Delaney

    I walked through this park every day for four years until very recently. I always admired how the kiddie crowd coexisted with the crowd of poor and apparently homeless people. Parents got to store their toys in a public place, poor people got to sit on the benches. Now Crackdown Day has finally arrived.

    What I want to know is this: If police are going to crack down on loitering, are they also going to crack down on littering? The “guerrilla park” kiddie toys strewn all over the grass are probably most lawless thing happening in the park at any given time.

    • anon

      yeah . . . hyperbole much? let’s equate a shared public play space with vagrants drinking, drugging, and generally being a nuissance. They should just all get off your lawn, right?

      • Arthur Delaney

        It’s not hyperbole to observe that one set of nuisance laws will be enforced against one group of people and another set of nuisance laws will not be enforced against a different, wealthier group. I do admit that it’s unpleasant. :(

      • anon

        what law is being violated by the todders who use the play area? you could technically call it “litter” (a big stretch), but that’s pretty much the extent of it, and the kids using it aren’t even the ones who did the “littering”. I don’t really buy the “loitering” for anyone who’s law abiding and not being a nuissance (and not sleeping/camped out). That’s not what people are complaining about here.

  3. The benches in this park were removed years ago to prevent loiterers from hanging around all day and sleeping there at night. The minute I saw the benches being replaced I thought what has happened would happen. I didn’t consider that drug dealers would join in the crowd, though. That is new.

    Early on at the PSA meeting, Lt. Fowler responded most appropriately by saying he would alert the MPD vice squad leader and would assign a 107 officer per shift to pay attention to the park. Realizing that I had heard plenty about the complaint and an appropriate police response, I left.

    I go to these meetings to hear what residents are concerned about and because I have been interested in MPD issues since long before I became an ANC Commissioner. (I am often the only one in attendance.) As an ANC Commissioner, I go to a LOT of meetings. Attending PSA 107 (and 106) meetings, however, is discretionary. Those who subscribe to my Beat26 newsletter emails know that I regularly report on crime issues and each month aggregate the PSA 106 and 107 crime report data.

    If the group of residents who attended this meeting think ANC6B ought to get involved, they need to talk with Commissioner Frishberg (the park is in his SMD) and Commissioners Pate and Peisch, who co-chair the Outreach and Constituents Task Force. The next meeting of that TF is in mid-September. Commissioner Frishberg, by the way, did a marvelous job of coordinating various city agencies to rid the other half of the park of rats.

    • Jim Simpson

      The benches were removed about 1993 because of these very same activities. I was the ANC6B03 commissioner at the time and worked with the National Park Service and Gentry Davis to remove them. As soon as they were removed the public drinking, public urination, order maintenance issues etc. dissipated. It’s unfortunate that 20 years later we are now back in the same situation.

      • anon

        the benches were re-installed as a project by a couple of local Eagle Scouts. While it’s unfortunate that there is bad behavior in the plaza, I’d also argue that the park has had a positive 2nd life as a play space for young children, and the benches have served to encourage families to congregate in the guerilla play space. Some of the problems relate to the continuing nuissance spillover from Community Connections clientelle across the street. Also during summer there are less families around and more vagrants are taking up the slack.

  4. Barbara Riehle

    Removing benches from parks because of bad behavior is like going to the dentist with a cavity and being told that all of your teeth should be removed. It’s not a solution.
    Lt. Fowler has been true to his word. Officers have responded to calls about “drug activity in the park”, and folks who are up to no good have been encouraged to move along.
    As neighbors, the best thing we can do is follow Lt. Fowler’s advice to call 911 when we see illegal or suspicious behavior.
    For the record, replacing the benches was our son’s Eagle Project in 2010. He too worked with NPS and the City’s DPR. The problems in the park escalated in the last several weeks. Without a place to sit, no one can use the park.

    • anon

      your son (and another scout friend) did a great job. we chatted while they were working on this and my wife and I were impressed. nice boys and they did good work. :-) agree with you on all points above

  5. anon

    I’ve got two little kids and I have to say we shouldn’t assume that a junkyard for broken/used/dirty outdoor toys is necessarily a benefit to children. First, it’s an attractive nuisance. I would like to be able to walk to the metro without having to pull my kids off of some dirty, discarded toy. Second, it’s a hazard. Many of the toys are cracked, have sharp edges, or otherwise unsafe. I remember once my kid sat on a plastic picnic table that was very unstable. Third, it’s totally unsupervised from a maintenance standpoint. A real playground would periodically be checked by park staff. Someone would be responsible for it.

    The guerrilla toy dump creates a false perception that somehow that park is a usable playspace for kids. It’s not. If the community wants a playspace, it should construct a proper playground. If it doesn’t want a real playspace, the sanitation dept should just remove the junk and ticket anyone else who litters their old toys there.

    I think in some ways the guerrilla park really just allows parents to (a) get rid of junk without the hassle of doing it the right way (in the trash, perhaps calling 311 for larger items or freecycling through MoTH) or (b) the guilt of having a lot of disposable plastic toys that frankly are not in short supply around Capitol Hill. Bobby’s cherished little Step2 wagon is not serving a higher purpose when you leave it in a public park where the wheels fall off, the surface accumulates filth, and the plastic cracks!

    Sorry about the cranky rant — I’ve clearly been storing this up for a long time. This blog gave me an outlet.

    P.S. And the same goes for Marion park. It’s only a matter of time before some kid breaks a neck on the plastic “roller coaster”.

  6. anonymous

    I’m a mother, and I agree that the toy heap should go. I had to entirely avoid that area when my son was about 2 years old. It is next to a major road and has no fence, and my son didn’t know where to stop running — it’s beyond unsafe for small kids. The toys pool rainwater and breed mosquitos too. This dumping of broken and filthy toys at the area playgrounds has gotten completely crazy. There used to be a toy slide at this park that literally collapsed as kids rode down it. Who is in charge of this park, btw??

    • anon

      maybe you need a leash for your kid. I’m not a big fan as there are better play spaces, but my kids and countless others have used this play space with zero incidence

  7. anonymous

    FYI: this past weekend there was an incident where a street person who is apparently “known to police” as a neighborhood fixture, masturbated at a small child on Walter Street. The initial response from the police was unimpressive (excuses about why they couldn’t do anything.) After the wildfire on the MoTH email list, and apparently also on a police list-serv, it seems things were taken more seriously. To me, what it shows is the danger of developing a huge blind spot… where people (including police, including city officials) start to see serious disorder as normal. Let’s not have a blind spot about the metro plaza park. The multiple uses now there are a very dangerous mix.

  8. anon

    my biggest objection is the use of the circular bushes as a de facto bathroom by a few vagrants (elderly women who are there virtually all day every day in particular). maybe we need another rock pile like across the street