A community meeting on repeat violence brings questions, but answers and solutions are slow

MPD patrol cars at the intersection of 4th and Taylor Streets NW

by Jonah Goodman
ANC 4C10 Commissioner

On Monday September 16, 2019, two incidents of gun fire impacted our community near 4th and Taylor Streets. In total, 40+ rounds of bullets were shot in the direction of a house and/or individuals in our community. Bullets hit several houses and the community is scared and angry.

This area hosts a very active drug market that is known to all our elected officials, MPD, and many District agencies. Initial information seems to suggest the house at the center of this drug market was the target leading neighbors to ask why has it been allowed to operate for so long and get to this point?

I recently held a community meeting to gather neighbors, District resources, and re-open a conversation about what is being done to address this and what the community wants to change this time. Because we have been here before.

Editor’s Note: Police Service Area 407 has a meeting on October 17th at 6pm at 801 Shepherd Street NW. Residents are urged to attend to talk with MPD leadership.

In December 2017, there was a daytime shooting behind a daycare facility in our community. Neighbors asked many great questions then and feel nothing significant changed. Those were preceded by similar meetings every few months after each incident of gun fire. Neighbors have said this property and violence has been an issue for the past 25 years. Many believe this time is no different and nothing will change.

There are a few main themes between these shootings and the 15 or so known incidents of sounds of gunfire, shots fired, and shootings that have occurred here since 2013.

  1. The common theme after a shooting is “we are asking for / increasing MPD patrols.” Increased patrols have a few issues:

    • There are not enough officers on any given shift in our area to regularly patrol a hot zone for days or even weeks.

    • Neighbors tend to feel this response is intended to temporarily appease concerns until the community moves on.

    • Increased patrols end once a new shooting happens and patrols need to shift to that new area or after a period of time whether or not there is new information in an investigation.

  2. There is often little else offered other than increased patrols or placing a patrol car at the scene for a period of time. This may calm the area but leaves questions as to what the District can do beyond that to stop these shootings, shut down known drug markets, and get District services to the communities that need them to stop our gun violence epidemic. Part of the challenge here is that we don’t have anyone tasked with organizing these larger responses. As an ANC Commissioner I can ask agencies to sit in the same room with neighbors, but I have no power to require them to work with us nor the resources to regularly manage this dialogue. Should this expectation be placed on the Councilmember, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety’s office, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, or just left to neighbors to organize if they are angry enough?

  3. Turnover within MPD often leads to the community having to ask the same questions and re-explain what is happening to MPD PSA teams. The MPD Commander, Captain, and PSA Lieutenant who came to our 2017 shooting meeting have all transitioned into new roles. The new team is highly responsive but admitted they didn’t think this area was a “hot zone” nor did they have any information on past shootings or MPD responses to address this area. The work that MPD started doing to address this area after 2017 seems to have stopped or been lost and the community finds itself starting over. We need to have growth opportunities within MPD and certainly want to offer advancement to outstanding officers. However, MPD needs to evaluate turnover and transition processes so they don’t lose the trust of the communities they serve.

  4. We need to create an environment where the expectation after these events is better dialogue and transparency. There is a balance between wanting to know answers and police investigations not being able to share all known details. However, we currently are at the far extreme where nothing can be shared publicly, and different people and agencies have different pieces of information. I have had to start publishing a list of requests and answers from elected officials, MPD, agencies in a public Google Doc to get all parties on the same page. Even with this communication is fragmented and takes significant amount of time to gather. If there was a centralized role that coordinate this communication, I could see a weekly progress report with this info:

    • Are there any leads on suspects?

    • Is this case still being actively investigated?

    • Are there investigative requests for the community? (e.g. can neighbors check security cameras at this time for any vehicles matching this description)

    • What are the inter-agency progress updates? (e.g. we have conducted two outreach efforts to the targets/victims and will do a third round, we have filed a nuisance property hearing request with the court, DDOT is installing new lighting in the next 48 hours)

    • Status of arrests and trials related to this investigation

    • Announcements of the next community meetings

  5. This is all a cyclical issue certain to play out again in a few months. The lack of ability to shut down this drug market has led neighbors to believe nothing will be done. Past meetings with MPD, calls to 911, sharing of information has not done much in the eyes of neighbors and they give up on reporting issues. MPD needs neighbors to report activity since they can’t be on every corner every day. Between turnover and sporadic communication back to the community limited information is shared back to the community. The Office of the Attorney General needs MPD to document cases and share information with them so they can pursue these drug markets as nuisance properties and help the community.

  6. We need some real oversight of what is happening and the District’s response. We have no idea of where there are process breakdowns and thus can’t fix the issues that have let this continue for so long. One very frustrating example is that there are seven known arrests at this location for drug and gun possession violations in the past few years. All but one have been dropped or never went to trial. When the United States Attorney Office was asked about this in 2017, they replied "the cases were dismissed because we discovered information during the course of our investigation that would have prevented us from being able to successfully prosecute the cases at trial." When MPD is asked about this they share they have seen the evidence handed over and it is solid, and they don’t understand how these cases are dropped. We as a community need to know what is happening here so we can demand changes or oversight hearings from our District government.

We can make this the last incident of gun violence here if the District is ready to the resources and policies in place. If we can do that, we also need to make sure that we can replicate that solution in other parts of the community where this same epidemic is playing out: 9th Street, Crittenden, Decatur, Jefferson...

Editor’s Note: Police Service Area 407 has a meeting on October 17th at 6pm at 801 Shepherd Street NW. Residents are urged to attend to talk with MPD leadership.