The 4th District Citizen’s Advisory Council met last night at 4D MPD headquarters at 6001 Georgia Avenue NW. Police Chief Cathy Lanier came by to discuss recent issues in the area, as well as current MPD resources, status, etc.
There were around 60 or so residents in attendance, along with Councilmember-Elect Brandon Todd, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, Ward 4 liaison Khalil Thompson, ANC 4A05 Commissioner Patience Singleton, ANC 4C Commissioner Timothy Jones and ANC 4D05 Commissioner Krystal Braxton. 4D Commander Wilfredo Manlapaz was there, as was Inspector Vendette Parker and another Commander that I didn’t get a chance to meet.
Turns out, the meeting started at 7pm not 7:30, so even though I thought I was getting there early I ended up being late and came in near the end of Chief Lanier’s prepared remarks and discussion.
The Chief mentioned that there are currently 3,907 sworn officers in DC, but that number is dropping due to retirements and attrition.
Referring to the Mayor’s proposed budget for MPD, Chief Lanier said, “I’m happy with the budget.” She said she believes it meets the needs of MPD.
On the point of how to deal with crime in the longer term, Chief Lanier said helping to solve two main issues with help: homelessness and education (or lack thereof). The Chief said that “homelessness must be solved, as it’s critical to stopping crimes by and against those who are homelessness. A lot of the crimes against the homeless don’t even get reported.”
The other issue Chief Lanier raised was education. “We need to have money for education and quality schools,” she said. She went on to say that keeping kids in school with a good education was one of the best ways of preventing crime.
She then switched topics to discuss body-worn cameras. She said that two things were important about the cameras: ensuring MPD was accountable to the public, and protecting the privacy of citizens who were recorded. Every officer in DC will be issued a camera, and every interaction will be recorded. Officers will notify people they interact with that the camera is recording, and the camera will flash a red light and beep every two minutes to show it’s active.
“There are a lot of interactions that we have” with residents, she said, “And now it’ll be on video. We have to balance the privacy of residents and the accountability for police.”
Regarding privacy, Chief Lanier said she hired a privacy attorney to assist her with the rollout and procedures of the body-worn cameras. “We follow the Federal privacy regulations” for using the cameras and managing the footage, she said. If recorded footage is not related to a crime or investigation, then the video will be purged (deleted) after 90-days. She said the groups who will have access to the recorded footage is strictly controlled.
After that, Chief Lanier took questions from the attendees. The first question was about attrition, especially young officers who go through training at the police academy and then move on to other agencies. If I heard correctly, Chief Lanier said MPD was looking to institute an obligated service agreement for new officers, based on education assistance. (So new officers will have to serve a certain amount of time before they can move on, if they choose to do so. How much time wasn’t clear.)
A resident first thank the Chief for her and the departments efforts, and then asked about resources they need, and how residents can help. Chief Lanier said the biggest resource is technology, as more technology helps make the department more efficient. “It allows us to keep more cops on the street,” she said. “How fast a cop can respond is the telling factor. When you call 911, you want an officer there as quickly as possible.” Technology helps MPD keep more patrols officers out on patrol. “The population of DC is up 15% and continues to rise, but our response time continue stop drop.” Chief Lanier said MPD’s response time was the fastest in the nation.
Another resident asked about redistricting, to which the Chief laughed and said “It’s coming, it’s coming!”
“Look, we went through redistricting, what, 5 years ago? At the time we thought we had 7 years before we needed to look at doing it again,” Chief Lanier said. “But the city is growing so fast, with 1,100 new residents coming into the District each month and economic development expanding so fast, that it means workload is shifting. So we’ll be looking at redistricting again in the next 4 to 5 months.” She said her team is busy with hearings and other matters, so she wants to time to get ready for the redistricting process.
One way of dealing with the attrition problem in the force is to hire civilians for work that officers are doing now, she said. The city is looking to hire for a variety of positions, including analysts, legal instrument examiners, property clerks, vehicle maintenance technicians and time and attendance clerks. “These are jobs being done by some of my officers now, and hiring civilians will allow us to put more officers on the streets,” she said. The mpd.dc.gov website has current civilian position listings, with two new vacancies posted each week.
Chief Lanier received a compliment for the demonstrations on Wednesday night, as 9 separate groups protested the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. There were no arrests last night, and the protests were peaceful.
“This is one reason we want to engage with the community,” Chief Lanier said. ”We have a great relationship with citizens, but in reality, it could happen here. We don’t want to take the relationship and resident support we have for granted.”
In fact, MPD is launching a new initiative to help residents connect with and understand policing in DC called the Community Engagement Academy. Six residents from each Ward were nominated to attend the academy, which starts in early June.
The Chief spoke about MPD safety cameras, and said MPD does an annual survey to determine if the cameras are placed in the right locations (depending upon need). MPD also has portable cameras that can be set up as needed. “Resident cameras make a huge difference,” Chief Lanier said. Residents with cameras set up in or around their property have helped MPD solve crimes. She recommends people get cameras if they can.
When asked about ways in which MPD is doing outreach to youth, Chief Lanier spoke about the ongoing programs to bring in teens to working with police, see how the Coast Guard operates, and other similar programs (some are paid). She said they work with more than 3,000 kids during summer programs (the DC Police Foundation helps pay for these programs).
A resident asked about a comprehensive plan to deal with the recent rise in shootings and other crime in Petworth and along the Kennedy Street corridor. Chief Lanier said she wasn’t sure of any “comprehensive plan,” but that as an example, from her own time serving in Ward 4, she’s aware that Kennedy Street sees a spike in crime “from time to time” caused “mainly by young (under 20) people. We see a lot of benefit by getting social services involved,” she said.
A few residents talked about car theft and vandalism. Apparently, 15 cars were vandalized and had their windows broken, and one car was set on fire — right behind the 4D headquarters. (So much for me feeling safe parking my car next to the headquarters building!)
After a few more discussions, Chief Lanier left and the CAC moved to close out some other issues from the meeting. They’re planning an awards program to recognize both residents and MPD officers for their efforts on behalf of residents. They’re also planning a 4th Street Festival (details to come).
Then Brandon Todd was invited to address the group. He thanked the Chief and the CAC for their efforts, and said he was committing to call 40-60 residents in the first 60 days he’s in office to ask them to be block captains and restart orange hat patrols. A resident suggested to Todd that the city consider helping people buy cameras for their property through tax incentives or other means.
Elissa Silverman was also invited to speak to the group, and said that she’s happy to be a voice to help and be a resource to the new councilmember-elect and all of Ward 4 residents.
4D Commander Manlapaz spoke on recent crime issues, citing that crime was down in 4D by 4%. “That might not seem a lot, but it’s a good number,” he said. He spoke about the new cameras at 8th and Jefferson and 4th and Crittenden Streets. He said there was “increased activity” along the PG county and Takoma Park borders, and that there’s been a spate of recent robberies of 7-11s (more than 3 from around the area). Commander Manlapaz also reiterated the department’s desire for residents to call 911 if they see anything suspicious. “It’s not bothering the police,” he said.
By 8:30 I had to jump out, and the meeting was winding down. Next MPD meeting of significance for our area is the PSA 404/407 meeting at 801 Shepherd Street NW on May 28th.
Good job for reading to the bottom!