Business Community Meets Again on Safety Issues Near Eastern Market Metro
by Larry Janezich
This morning, representatives of more than a dozen community stakeholders, ranging from businesses, to MPD, to ANC6B, to Community Connenctions, to the Capitol BID met at Hill’s Kitchen near 8th and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, to discuss safety issues. Hill’s Kitchen owner Leah Daniels has been the prime mover in organizing a response to the quality of life crimes which have come to define the 8th and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, commercial intersection. The problems Daniels cited included vagrancy, trash, drug activity, public urination and public sex acts.
The issues were first aired at a similar meeting with CM Charles Allen on September 21 (http://bit.ly/1jzL4H5) and Allen reconvened the group to report on steps which have been taken to address the problems. Two of the factors that Allen cited which are perceived as contributing to creating a negative environment on the corner are the clients of mental health provider Community Connections and students from both Cesar Chavez Charter School and Eastern High School.
With respect to the students, Allen credited Cesar Chavez administrators for instituting school staff participation in the after school safe passage program, whereby staff maintain a presence on the street between the school and Eastern Market Plaza to monitor student behavior after school. Allen also commended the follow through by Eastern High School principle Rachel Skerritt in identifying students involved in a flash mob robbery of the Barracks Row 7-11 (http://bit.ly/1KGitvH), intervening with each of the students, and requiring those involved to visit the store with their parents to apologize to the manager.
MPD First District Captain Mark Beach addressed the group telling them of his strong commitment to bring improved community policing to the First District, ensuring his officers get out from behind the wheels of their cruisers to interact with businesses and residents. He said his officers “are being tasked with becoming part of the community and they’re doing so,” and that he engages in a dialogue with his officers to determine what extent they are participating in the community, asking for specific details on who they have interacted with.
Beach said that police work is being hampered by a “mental health crisis” which is exacerbated by those self-medicating with synthetic drugs. The resulting unconsciousness is a huge problem for MPD and DCFD, he said; MPD gets “25 or 30” calls a day asking for a first responder, sapping police resources. Nonetheless, he urged residents to overcome the feeling of reluctance to call 911 when there is not a life or death emergency and to call for quality of life crime issues.
Some business owners complained that when they called 911, police response was slow and police were nonchalant when they did arrive. One said, “I’m calling but MPD is not doing anything.” Beach said in such cases, he could be called directly, and gave the group his cell phone number. He also claimed that part of the problem on response time is the troubled Office of Unified Communications (OUC) – the call center – which he pointed out is not part of the MPD. CM Allen agreed and said that the call center was the subject of recent Council hearings undertaken in an effort to better understand the unit and to make in more efficient.
Community Connections’ (CC) Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Dave Freeman said CC has conducted a survey of the area around 8th and Pennsylvania, and identified 12 CC clients who frequent the intersection and who need additional intervention. He described the steps that CC is taking to provide additional help to these individuals and to get them off of the streets. He stressed that the assistance of ANC6B and CM Allen’s office could be helpful.
The group also heard from representatives of CVS and of Starbucks – the latter cited the bus stop in front of the coffee shop as being the major contributing factor to loitering. The redesign of Metro Plaza – if and when it becomes a reality – would relocate the bus stop across D Street to Metro Plaza. Allen urged both stores to call 911 rather than relying on staff or irregular attention from corporate security offices.
Although invited, there was no representative from the Barracks Row 7-11, and concerns were raised that the problems experienced by that outlet in terms of being a magnet for a negative environment would be duplicated when the 7-11 on Pennsylvania Avenue opens in a few days. Allen said he was meeting with representatives of both outlets in the next two weeks and would work with them to address these issues.
Asked for her reaction to the meeting today, Daniels said, “Anytime business can get together to solve problems, it’s a win. I appreciate Charles Allen’s involvement and his work to make the community a cleaner and better place.”
Allen attributed the “vast majority of negative things to a handful of people.” He urged the group to stay in touch with his office and the ANC and said the group would meet again if necessary.