Notes from PSA 404/407 meeting

The Police Service Area meeting for MPD PSAs 404 and 407 was crowded with more than 20 residents. That’s good and bad — it’s bad since it’s usually crowded when there’s strong concern about ongoing crime in the neighborhood. On the other hand, it was great to see so many neighbors out discussing their concerns and giving MPD praise for their hard work. 

Given how I write my notes with a lot of back and forth quotes and discussion, I want to be clear that it was a good, calm meeting, and the MPD officers were very open to listening and responding to residents. 

The new PSA 407 manager, Lieutenant Anthony Washington, introduced himself to residents at the meeting. Lt Raul Figueras, the PSA 404 manager was in attendance, as was Sergeant Schaut from 407.

Lt. Washington set the tone for the meeting saying “I’m not a big stats guy, and while crime is down, I think as important as stats are, if someone gets robbed, you don’t care if crime is down in the neighborhood, you care about the crime that happened.”

We spent a good amount of time talking about the recent gunshots around Taylor and 2nd street this weekend. According to Commissioner Joe Martin, also in attendance, the building at 4211 2nd Street NW has seen its fair share of problems with violence and crime (there was a murder in the building five years ago). A recent shooting on Sunday, October 25th scared many people, including residents who had been eating dinner at a nearby restaurant when the gunfire occurred. 

PSA 407 manager Lt. Anthony Washington

Lt. Washington said that up until now, that area had not been on his radar, as there had not been “calls for service for a long time.” (Calls for service = 911 calls basically.) The lieutenants made it clear that knowing about a problem, and having the police get involved, are two different issues. MPD needs to witness or know about a crime and have evidence of laws being broken. 

MPD needs residents to keep calling 911 for suspicious activity, and to work with their ANC commissioners and city services like DCRA to deal with the owners of problem properties.

“We need citizens to pay attention and let us know as things happen by calling 911,” said Lt. Figueras. “We focus on crime and investigate criminally — we look for probable cause to arrest someone. We can’t recommend an eviction or anything like that.”

Lt. Washington brought up a house at 13th and Taylor that had been a problem property. ANC 4D Commissioner David Sheon worked with MPD, the Office of the Attorney General and DCRA to find who the real owner of the property was, and due to tax fines being levied, the owner sold the house and the issues with violence from that property went away.

Jonah Goodman, who has been active and vocal on the 4D listservs, asked about the shootings at 4th and Taylor. “This is the 7th shooting in 10 months,” he said. The incident involved multiple gunshots with four cars being hit (one local, 2 from “across the river” and one out of state, according to Lt. Washington).

Lt. Washington clarified terminology, saying that “A shooting is when someone gets hit, otherwise we classify it as ‘sounds of gunshots.’” That classification is important and is why the gunshots didn’t show up on the MPD listservs. It’s considered “destruction of property” and isn’t included in the daily crime report emails.

Lt. Figueras said that without anyone shot, just cars, it’s difficult to connect these incidents with a specific house. If they tried to get a warrant, the Office of the Attorney General will ask for specific evidence and facts. He reiterated that residents should call 911, email the Lieutenants or come by the 4D headquarters to report crime and discuss their concerns. He stressed the importance of requesting “to be interviewed” by an officer when calling 911 to report suspicious activity. “That can be in person or by phone,” he said. Not only does this allow MPD and the OAG to build a profile over a person or property, but from a legal standpoint, MPD can’t use an anonymous tip or call as a reason to arrest people. 

“We have to respect citizens’ civil rights,” Sargeant Schaut said. “The Supreme Court has made it clear that without a complainant, police have their hands tied” in terms of stopping, searching or otherwise engaging people they think may be dealing on the street or otherwise up to no good. With a complainant who can identify a suspect, police have more options, he said.

PSA 407 Sergeant Schaut 

Lt Washington added that it’s been relatively quiet in the 400 block of Taylor this summer. “That’s not by accident,” Washington said. “We’ve put things in place.” He discussed increased foot and bike patrols, and now, greater attention by the Lt.

Jonah asked about moving the MPD camera from 4th and Shepherd to Taylor Street, but Washington said that wasn’t an option at the moment. “Camera placements are decided higher up by crime stats,” he said. “We need tangible numbers to move a camera.”

Jonah said that “neighbors want to help but have given up,” and added that the spate of gun violence, as well as the history of gunshots in the area, should be considered as valid for reasons of moving the camera.

Bike Officers from PSA 407

Lt. Washington discussed how they’ve recently increased the bike patrols in 407 and that area, including officers walking on foot, something Jonah acknowledged he’s seen and appreciated. Lt. Washington said that bike patrols were considered “worth their weight in gold” due to their high visibility. They’ve added an additional two bike patrol to the 700-800 block of Upshur, from Taylor to Varnum, and 7th to 9th Streets. 

Another resident raised a concern that Lt. Washington wasn’t aware of some of the issues around Taylor and 4th. “I’ve made probably 15 calls in the last four months about people hanging out in the alley, smoking, dealing drugs,” he said.

Lt. Washington said that without a crime, those calls were probably classified as “disorderly calls” and once the matter was cleared, he doesn’t get those reported in the stats. He reiterated that he was now very aware of the area.

Another resident talked about a problem house in his area, with men hanging out in the street at all hours, in all weather. The neighbors are positive there’s an open air drug marketing occurring. “It’s like the US Postal Service out there — rain, snow, sleet, they’re on the street.”

PSA 404 manager Lt. Raul Figueras

Lt. Figueras said he understood, but without direct evidence of a law being broken and no reasonable suspicion by an officer — not a neighbor’s assumption — their hands are tied. “If the homeowner claims the people are family, friends or guests, we have to respect their right to be there.” He followed that with another request for residents to call 911 when they see something, and to make their presence known. MPD outreach coordinator Derek Stanton mentioned that organized neighborhood walks might help. “If they know the neighbors are watching them, they might take their gathering someplace else,” Lt. Figueras said. 

ANC 4C Commissioner Vann-Di Galloway mentioned a resolution to a similar problem at 902 Quincy Street. They went to the OAG and CSOSA (Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency) and got them involved. They were able to send probation officers to visit the group hanging out and causing disturbances and dispersing them (parolees can’t associate around drugs, for example). 

Another resident complained about 4912 3rd Street (the location of Paperhaus, a DIY music venue). The resident complained about the music and that, according to a recent Washington City Paper article, the police have known about the venue for years and done nothing. She wanted to know why the police haven’t done anything, and wanted the owners fined for the past 5 years of music (she claims she has called 911 with noise complaints). 

Lt. Figueras said that when MPD responds to a noise complaint, (classified as “Noise Late at Night” … after 10pm), the most they can do is ask the owner to turn it down. If they comply, the issue is closed and the police leave. If the person calling 911 doesn’t leave a call back number, or doesn’t call back again if the noise returns, there’s little MDP can do as noise complaints fall under DCRA. He recommended that residents call DCRA to address the issue for a longer-term solution if the issue continues. Sgt Schaut mentioned that an officer can’t be a complainant in a noise complaint, and recommended that residents leave their name when they call 911.

Commissioner Zach Teutsch asked about increasing foot and bike patrols on 14th Street between Spring and Shepherd. Lt. Figueras said that there is a foot officer in that area, but that the officer stays mostly on 14th Street (where the predominant amount of people and issues were located).

Another resident wanted to share her thanks with the Lieutenants, particularly Lt Washington for his help with a problem house on the 500 block of Crittenden. She said that with MPD’s help, along with all the neighbors coming together (“Black, White, young and old, new and old, all got together and the street finally got quiet”) and getting DCRA and the OAG involved, they were able to get the people evicted. Years of problems, violence and drugs went away.

Another resident, David Dzidzienyo, talked about Councilmember McDuffie’s efforts on the Judiciary Committee and the need for neighbors to work together, have local meetings and build the “trust factor” in the community. 

ANC 4C Commissioners Zach Teutsch and Vann-Di Galloway

Commissioner Galloway said one of the important aspects about the violence and the groups on the streets was to ask “why these people are out 24 hours a day? They aren’t working, they don’t know how to fit in,” he said. “They don’t have any where to hang out so they go to the parks, the alleys. We need something for these teenagers to do.” He suggested bringing back midnight basketball leagues and doing a better job of promoting job programs.

The meeting closed with Lt. Figueras mentioning that crime has gone down 17% month-over-month in PSA 404 in comparison with the same time last year, and down 12% overall year-to-date. We discussed changing the meetings to every other month instead of quarterly. That depends upon the number of residents who show up and meet with MPD. So you should totally come next time!