Petworth residents trying to find a way to deal with a recent jump in local crime and violence

An MPD officer patrols Petworth.

According to neighbors in Southwest Petworth who have been sharing a large email thread, in the last few months there has been a dramatic increase in petty and violent crime along and around Quincy and Kansas Avenue NW, including the sound of five gunshots on Tuesday evening, July 24th, an event that forced a woman and her two children to hide behind a house in an alley. 

Neighbors report witnessing prostitution, drug sales, and repeated package theft by the same group of young men riding dockless bikes. They say they have witnessed the youth following delivery vans and stealing packages soon after the van leaves, with at least one person working as a "look out" while the others grab the packages. One resident wrote, "There are guys on bikes that sit on opposite corners of the block and whistle to each other, or bike slowly around at full attention, looking around. It seems to me pretty obvious that something wrong is happening here."

On-the-street robberies have also increased in the area, most recently with an armed robbery along the 4200 block of Kansas Avenue involving a gun, and a truck robbed at gunpoint at 12:30 in the afternoon on July 16th on the 4500 block of Kansas. 

The Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the area is trying to help residents and sent an email to MPD Chief Peter Newsham requesting more support from MPD in proactively dealing with the crime. The commissioner and other residents have said that MPD has been responsive in reacting to calls, but residents want to bring in Vice, Narcotics and Human Trafficking units back to the Fourth District. This is especially critical, residents say, because they believe most of the recent uptick in crime stems from one house on the 1200 block of Quincy Street that is involved in drug dealing and use, prostitution and other issues. 

"As noted in [other] constituent/resident's emails... we believe that one particular property, is likely the cause of these gunshots as well as the uptick in various other criminal activity, including a recent armed robbery, in the immediate vicinity within the last few months," the commissioner wrote to Chief Newsham. "While the MPD Team in the area, including Captain Christian, have been very responsive to our questions, we realize that tackling the issues at this property will likely need a multi-pronged strategy involving the Narcotics Unit, Human Trafficking Unit and perhaps even other DC agencies' involvement (building code, housing, and illegal dumping violations likely exist)." 

Prostitution and drug dealing aren't new to this stretch of Kansas Avenue or its alleys, and residents have been trying for several years to find a way to resolve it. They walk through the alleys, have security cameras and call 911 when there's a crime. And while things haven't been great, this recent and intense spate of crimes and issues are new, starting in the last two or three months immediately after the house on Quincy was occupied, says one resident. The house's previous owners are now passed away, with their kids or relatives having moved into the house in the late spring. 

"The cast of characters coming in and out of that house is ridiculous," writes one resident. "There are women who are clearly prostitutes, that we've ID'd before coming and going in our neighborhood, who come up to the porch, smoke a cigarette with one of the guys there, make a couple hand offs and go about their way. I literally witnessed 3 different women do this in a 30 minute stretch last week."

A recent email from MPD to residents detailed some of the action they have taken to deal with the crime, including bringing in the Human Trafficking Unit and Narcotics to "abate the drug and prostitution activity in and around the alley between 13th and 14th at Randolph."

Along with the crime on Quincy Street, residents also report that Raymond Recreation Center is still experiencing drug dealing activities, ongoing for four years. "They deal drugs right out in the open, as school kids walk by. If a family is walking by, they get aggressive if you stare at them," said one resident.

"MPD has been communicative," said one resident to me on a phone call, who wanted to remain anonymous. "But even so, they can never seem to catch up. Patrols don't do enough, it makes people feel good, but does nothing," he said. "Calling 911 is putting people at risk. We had neighbors on 13th Street threatened for being 'snitches,' threatened while sitting on their porch with their kids in the middle of the day."

"The police have an over-reliance on residents calling 911 since the Fourth District doesn't have a vice or narcotics squad," a resident said to me. "Without a permanent squad, the Fourth District has to share the central vice squad with the other Wards." 

Residents want MPD to increase the narcotics units in the neighborhood and not rely upon patrol officers to shut down drug markets and prostitution issues, as they already have their hands full responding to regular 911 calls and patrolling the area. "The dealers have lookouts and the patrol cars are visible from blocks away," writes one resident. 

"DC needs to develop task force type structures to address these nuisance properties that are the root cause of a significant amount of crime in our neighborhoods," said a resident in an email to Petworth News.

"Jasmin Benab [from the Mayor's Office of Community Relations] was super effective with integrating different DC agencies (DPR, DPW, DCRA, MPD, HRA, etc.) to address large scale neighborhood issues, but they need to do the same thing, with specific liaisons tasked to work together across agencies, as a team, to provide services both to the residents of the nuisance properties (i.e., ensuring that any children living in a nuisance property are being properly cared for, fed, and educated; or helping people get drug treatment/find a job) but also to work with the neighbors surrounding the nuisance properties to address their concerns as well. Apparently OAG [DC office of the attorney general] is no longer identifying/investigating 'nuisance properties' in DC, which is just ridiculous."

"It should not fall to groups of neighbors to have to figure out how to coerce disparate DC agencies to coordinate with/across organizational boundaries," she said. "These nuisance properties always require the services of multiple DC agencies, and there really needs to be a formalized structure in place in order to deliver concentrated support to mitigate the issues they cause throughout neighborhoods."

The Quincy house is now in foreclosure court, as the family tries to take possession. "I just hope that the judge hears what's been happening since they moved in. If they get ownership, this may never stop," another resident said.