MPD Hears from Residents at Wednesday Night Crime Meeting
More Details on MPD Alert “Lapse”
by Larry Janezich
An overflow crowd of some 200 district residents turned out last night for a community crime meeting called by Councilmember Tommy Wells to address concerns about recent violent robberies on Capitol Hill. Police have linked two and possibly three robberies, the first two being slasher/robberies near Eastern Market and the third a robbery near the NOMA-Gallaudet Metro stop.
Responding to public criticism of lapses in police procedure/technology that resulted in failure of MPD to alert the community to the first incident on May 15, First District Commander Jeff Brown took responsibility at the start of the meeting. He explained that the failure to issue an alert immediately was because the incident, initially reported as an aggravated assault, failed to meet criteria for posting to listservs. When it was determined later that night that it was an assault/robbery, it still failed to meet the criteria for posting because of the vague description of the assailant. Human error was involved in the failure to list the event on the Daily Crime Report after an officer completed a review of the data for the report before the data was refreshed.
Brown said that measures had been taken to assure the failure would not happen again, and that a review of the criteria for posting crime incidents to the listservs was underway. Currently, violent felonies that meet the criteria for tweeting to listservs include robbery, shootings, and stabbings. It is unclear whether the MPD understands that the community receives such alerts not only, or not even primarily, to keep watch for potential assailants who match a description, but also to discern certain patterns in crime (time, place) in order to alert friends and neighbors and possibly alter their own decisions about how to get home during a certain time of night, etc.
ANC Commissioner Brian Pate has suggested to Councilmember Wells that he call for an Inspector General inspection of 911 call-handling and an internal audit of MPD report-taking procedures/errors. Pate says, “We’ve heard too many anecdotes about botched reports and 911 calls – quality is inconsistent.”
The meeting received heavy coverage from the local media outlets, including the Washington Post and local television stations. What was not reported by most of these outlets was the series of complaints issued by residents concerning MPD operations, including racial profiling, police inattentiveness to resident concerns, police focusing on traffic violations, and a wrenching description from a young female resident of Hill East who described the failure of MPD to return phone calls or emails after she was the victim of a hit and run accident near 18th and C Streets, SE. Wells termed her account “extremely troubling” and he and Brown assigned personnel to get a fuller account from the woman.
Residents voiced a series of ideas about what could be done to address safety concerns. These included additional lighting, reactivation of the Orange Hat Patrols, and greater community cohesiveness. In the latter case, community activist Peter Bug Matthews made an impassioned plea for residents coming together as a community and looking out for each other.
In previous community crime meetings on Capitol Hill, two elements have been routinely aired, and last night’s gathering was no different. The first was an overview of MPD’s cyclical strategy of devoting extra resources in the wake of community outrage of recent crime, which one resident called “reactive rather than proactive.” That resident summed it up as follows: crime spike, community crime meeting and police deployment, reduction in crime, reduction in deployment.
Wells admitted that “deployment is data driven and responds to trends” and said that after a period of decline, the neighborhood is seeing an uptick in violent crime. Brown said that when he took over the First District earlier this year, one of his first acts was to ask his lieutenants to formulate crime prevention plans. It is not clear whether these lieutenants will share these plans with residents at the monthly PSA meetings. PSA 107 (6th Street to 13th Streets, SE and East Capitol to Navy Yard) meets at 7:00pm on the first Thursday of the month in the Southeast Library with Lieutenant Eddie Fowler.
The second standard element of such meetings is police admonitions to stay aware of surroundings, avoid making yourself a target through inattentiveness and carrying multiple bags, and don’t hesitate to call 911 in response to any behavior which seems unusual or suspicious. Also unclear at the meeting was how this squares with resident complaints about MPD behavior when they followed this advice to the letter.