Here are my notes and thoughts on the Emergency PSA 407 Crime Brief Meeting from today (3/21). The turnout at the emergency PSA 407 meeting at 750 Park Road NW was very high, with more than 70 residents in the audience, including Councilmember Anita Bonds and representatives from two other Councilmember offices (Orange and Grosso). I saw several ANC 4C commissioners (John-Paul Hayworth, Timothy Jones and Joe Martin) and one ANC 4D commissioner (Krystal Branton). Khalil Thompson form the Mayor’s office also was there. No Ward 4 candidates attended (though there was a “representative” from one candidate).
Lieutenant Van Crawford ran the meeting (he’s the PSA 407 manager) and was relaxed and open to listening and responding to residents. I think the size of the crowd may have taken him by surprise, as did the presence of TV cameras and reporters (2 were there, one from Ch 9, WUSA) but he adjusted pretty well. (The cameraperson needs to learn how to use her zoom feature — she was disconcertingly close to the face of residents as they spoke.)
The stated topic of the meeting was the recent gun violence and shootings in Petworth, particularly the March 16th shooting at 3rd and Upshur / Varnum. (On a related note, there was another shooting this morning at 9th and Randolph, picked up by the ShotSpotter system, no shell casings or injured found.) Lt Crawford said it’s very common to respond to a shots fired call, only to find nothing (no shell casings, no injured).
Lt. Crawford started the meeting by asking the crowd of residents to ask questions and provide their thoughts, and for the next hour and a half, they did. Everyone was civil, and the meeting was focused almost exclusively on resident questions, with one question repeating itself:
“What is the comprehensive plan to deal with the shootings and crime in Petworth and Ward 4?”
The answer given by the Mayor’s office and MPD is: “A comprehensive plan is being developed and will be communicated.” This is the same answer given by DC for a few years now, through successive mayors, MPD commanders and council members. As background, one resident provided me with notes from an October 2013 Safety Meeting held at the 4D station on Georgia Ave, which included MPD Chief Diane Groomes, former 4D Commander Missouri, and former Councilmember Bowser (and some of her staff). It documents almost the exact same issues as today’s meeting, with Jefferson and 5th, 6th & 7th Streets being hot spots for shootings, along with 2nd & Upshur. Same as now. Attention needs to be paid to both enforcement and prevention through social programs. There has to be a way to interrupt the cycle of crime and lack of opportunity. According to MPD, it is a cycle, one that is passed down generationally in families who are active within the local crews (aka gangs) in the area.
Regarding the March 16th shooting on Upshur, Lt. Crawford said they believe it was 1 shooter, trying to fire at 2 other individuals and hitting cars instead. He said they have a number of “persons of interest” based on videos provided by residents in the area who have cameras in the alleys and in the back of their homes.
A resident mentioned that her children were playing in the street not less than an hour before the shootings, while another resident said she got out of her car only “a few minutes before the shooting started.”
Residents talked about “displacement” of crime from the Kennedy Street area, being pushed down toward Upshur and Varnum, as the crews are looking to stay away from the current increased police presence. Another resident from Jefferson St said that displacement seems temporary, as there’s been two homicides in front of his house in the last two months, and as soon as the police lights move away, the crime comes back.
There was a lot of discussion about the alleys around 2nd/3rd and Upshur / Varnum. Some are claiming it’s an open air drug market, others suggesting that something likely illegal is going on, as people are congregating in the alley, drinking, smoking and interacting with out-of-state cars. Lt Crawford said that while MPD can drive through, they can’t stop people without probable cause. He did add that one reason for patrol officers to get out of their cars to talk to people is that an initial conversation with someone loitering in an alley, etc, can start the process of obtaining probable cause, based on that person’s answers.
Residents wanted to know if a camera can be installed in the 7th & 8th Streets and Jefferson area (in fact, a request has already been made to move a camera there by 4D Commander Manlapaz).
Some residents asked for more police presence on foot patrols, and Lt Crawford said they were having patrol officers get out of their cars more often, and had positioned more bike patrols and Segway patrols along the Upshur corridor. One resident said she hasn’t seen the increase in patrols, but Lt Crawford assured her that the patrols have indeed increased and that there’s been an allocation of more resources to the area.
Another resident asked MPD to communicate more with residents through meetings, at which point several people reminded the crowd that MPD does PSA meetings, CAC (Citizen Advisory Council) meetings, local briefings and meet & greets at resident homes and more. There was some confusion on how to find out about these meetings. I recommended that people watch the listservs and Petworth News blog, and email me questions that they want addressed at the PSA meetings if they can’t make it. A number of residents wanted MPD to make sure they closed the communication loop on incidents, when possible (arrests made, preventative steps taken, etc.).
To which point, if you’re more likely to attend a Saturday morning PSA 407 meeting, please let Derek Staten (4D’s outreach coordinator) know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lt Crawford was asked if MPD has enough resources, and personally, I think the answer is No. I’ve heard from other MPD leadership that MPD could use more officers and better morale (but that’s a discussion another day). However, Lt Crawford said while retirements and attrition are always an issue, the academies are full and that PSA 407 had the resources it needs. He said that 4D regularly works with 3D and 5D and other agencies (such as Park Police) and faith-based organizations.
Lt Crawford also asked a number of residents to contact him after the meeting to talk about problem properties, and for ways to submit videos of activities happening in the area. (By the way, if you have a camera pointed at your property or pointed at public property, you can record video, and if you see a crime committed or suspicious activity, MPD is happy to take the video.)
Lt Crawford repeated what we’ve heard as a consistent message from MPD: “If you see something suspicious, or you are concerned, call 911.” For example, if someone is sitting in a car in the alley behind your house, “I’d find that suspicious if it were my house,” he said. “Call 911 and let us deal with it.” He said MPD tracks the calls, even if nothing is discovered after the police arrive, to help them understand potential problem areas. He also asked residents to keep emailing MPD, reading the listservs and communicating with city leadership, “Citizens can show up, voice their opinions, send emails and be active,” he said. “We want to work with active, sincere residents who are looking for ways to improve the area.”
When asked what MPD would like to hear from residents, Lt Crawford smiled and said a “job well done” would be nice, which got laughs of appreciation from the residents. In fact, a number of residents complimented MPD for the speed of their response to calls and for their openness in communicating with residents (this meeting being a prime example).
Juan Thompson from Council member Grosso’s office, asked if residents would be interested in organizing an “Orange Hot Association” to help MPD, saying it proved very effective in his area of Ward 6. No one stepped up to say this type of program should be started, but I would suggest this is a good topic for a Ward 4 Candidate to champion.
The meeting ended and a number of residents spoke with Lt Crawford and amongst themselves. I think these types of meetings are important and desired in the community — the hard part is keeping them active when there aren’t spikes in crime.