New Hill East Community Public Safety Organization Backs Safety Routes Proposal
by Larry Janezich
Last night, at its first public meeting, a fledgling community public safety coalition drew about 50 community members and stakeholders, including Councilmember Charles Allen and ANC6B Commissioners Chander Jayaraman, Daniel Chao, and Denise Krepp. Also attending were Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue, MPD First District Lt. Damion Taylor, and representatives of the Guardian Angels.
The DC Safety Network is a grassroots community effort co-chaired by Richard Lukas and the Rev. Kelly Jareaux. According to their website, the group is a “diverse, nonpartisan coalition of concerned individuals working to enhance safety and reduce violent crime in the District.” Their over-all goal is to establish partnerships with social justice organizations and the MPD, and local and federal public agencies to help “at risk” individuals and reduce violent crime in high crime areas, in hopes the effort will be adopted in other neighborhoods and communities in the city.
The coalition has arisen, in part, perhaps, because of the sense of some community members that the community policing efforts of the PSA’s (Police Service Areas) under the guidance of MPD First District police lieutenants are no longer effective. In too many cases, the PSA meetings have devolved into the recitation of relatively meaningless crime statistics without context, and rote repetition of advice on how to avoid being a victim. Such a program fails to encourage repeat attendance for those who venture to attend one. Some PSA’s encourage greater engagement – PSA 108 and PSA 104 come to mind – but most do not.
The first public safety initiative the DC Safety Net is sponsoring is the “Safe Routes Program” – the brain child of ANC6B commissioner Chander Jayaraman. His idea – which DC Safety Network has endorsed and adopted – involves community volunteers occupying corners on routes leading away from Capitol Hill Metro stops in the heavily trafficked 5:30pm – 7:30pm commuter time slot, Monday through Friday. Jayaraman emphasizes that the message is, “I’m on watch.” He says, “We don’t want to put people in jail, we are just saying, ‘Don’t [threaten] our neighborhood.’” Jayaraman issued an appeal for additional volunteers willing to commit to an hour’s service as citizen sentinels to help make the neighborhood safer.
Initially, the effort is being coordinated by Jayaraman and Lukas, who will manage the logistics including distribution of yellow safety vests and battery powered hand held “shrieking” alarms to volunteers. Jayaraman says he hopes to launch the initial Safe Routes pilot at the end of the month, focusing on 14th Street starting at the Potomac Metro stop and extending to the 14th Street’s intersection with Maryland Avenue, NE.
Councilmember Allen addressed the group, saying them that MPD Chief Cathy Lanier told him she was sending “my best commander” to take over the First District in the wake of the retirement of Commander Brown last month. Allen said he had talked to the new First District commander – Commander Robert Contee – and told him that the number one issue in Ward 6 was “robberies, robberies, robberies. I think he got it.” But, Allen said, “I need your help” in community building to address public safety issues. Allen did not respond to an email asking whether the PSA’s have outlived their usefulness, leading to a grassroots public safety organization arising outside the PSA network.
For more information on DC Safety Network and to join DC SafetyNet, visit: http://bit.ly/1OZ8CN1 and follow them on Twitter @DCSafetyNet