Sunday, July 18, 2010

Walking in the MPD's Shoes during Club Zone hours

Commissioner Stacey Moye and I arrived at Third District precinct about 15 minutes before our 2:30 a.m. scheduled appointment time with Sgt. Williams. We arrived early in order to fill out required paperwork and because we were pretty darned excited to see what was going on in the Adams Morgan Club Zone at the most intense time.

The sergeant was not there, so we sat and waited next to the front desk. Even the wait had an element of excitement because it was a front row seat to 3rd District at the crazy hour. An Ethiopian couple came in to give a pair of shoes to a sister, who had been arrested while wearing no shoes. We heard a woman's story about how her car got attacked and trashed on 18th Street by a carful of hoodlums while she and her friends were inside the car. They had to drive up a one-way street the wrong way to get away. She said the police on 18th Street told her to go to 3rd District because they couldn't make a police report out there.

Sgt Williams arrived about ten minutes late and full of adrenaline. There had been a change in her duties; the day before, she'd been moved off the Club Zone for the next two weeks. I never got the email. Since we were there and waiting, she requested and received permission to do the walkaround as scheduled. Her car was in the back of the station. We walked out onto the top floor of the police parking lot. I got to ride shotgun. When she got into the car and we were all ready to go, she asked about the paperwork. We told her we never got it. So she drove around to the front of the precinct and brought it to us in the squad car. While we were filling it out, she turned up her radio so we could hear the jibjab coming out. We heard about an unconscious person at the corner of 18th and Columbia. It was time to get up the hill.

When we pulled away from 3rd District it was 3:00 AM. Crossing 17th Street and then Florida Avenue, sirens were blaring. 18th Street was waiting. We got as far as Kalorama Road, where the Sergeant squeezed her squad car by a police motorcycle, and then parked her car, right in the middle of the street. The street was being closed to northbound traffic. We got out to walk.

The street was definitely hopping, but the crowds were not so large and rowdy. Heaven and Hell was closed because of an ABRA violation, according to the sergeant, and that kept a lot of people from being out there at closing time. As we walked further up, the crowds got bigger and the people got rowdier, especially outside the pizza places. There was a horrendous mess all over the sidewalk in front of pizza places; the worst was Adams Morgan Pizza Mart. The trashcan was piled up with pizza boxes to about 3 feet higher than the rim of the trash can. How is it that the owners who are raking in the dough, no pun intended, for their unending pizza sales can be so irresponsible about the pizza trash they create right in front of their store? Not to mention trash created when people take the boxes and eat pizza on neighbors’ front steps, then leave trash behind.

How hard can solving the problems be if we all work on them together?

As we walked up 18th Street, the sergeant kept keen vigil on the crowds.Occasionally she’d intervene in someone’s fun and tell them they can’t have a tailgate party with their boom box blasting. Basically, she let the crowds stay and didn’t move people along because she knew there were at least 15 officers in the vicinity who were taking care of their stations.

Sgt Williams introduced us to all the police personnel on the block. There are two types of MPD deployed on 18th Street during the club zone hours. The first are the regular police from MPD, including Sgt Williams. The second are so-called “reimbursibles”. The BID (Business Improvement District) hires approximately ten MPD reimbursibles and pays them time and a half to keep a lid on the explosive situation. A few business establishments also hire and pay for their own reimbursibles. The BID gets a grant from the city to help pay for the reimbursibles. In addition to the reimbursibles, the BID pays a security director a hefty sum each night to help keep a lid on it. He is Officer Greg Frank, a certified MPD bicycle officer. We ran into a plain clothes Greg toward the end of our walk to Columbia Road.

When we got to the top of the hill (18th & Columbia), there was an emergency vehicle parked almost directly in front of McDonalds on 18thStreet. Inside was the unconscious person the radio call was about. The sergeant went into the EV to determine the person’s condition. When she came out, she told us the patient is conscious and alert. As we lingered, I peeked into the back of the EV to see the patient; she was laughing and looked to be in no pain. The EMS were taking her to the hospital for observation. The sergeant wanted to wait until the EV moved before we continued the walk.

By the time we started back down 18th Street it was almost 3:30 AM. The hanging-out crowds were still around, but thinning. There is no anti-loitering ordinance in DC. The police cannot just bum rush the loiterers -- yes, there were many loiterers -- and make them move. The one statute the sergeant relies on to move people along is a statute against incommoding, blocking passage on a sidewalk. Even that statute was applied extremely sparingly as we walked down the street. This was good policing, because none of the loiterers were disturbing the peace. She worked with fearless coolness and great respect for everyone. It was easy to see why Sergeant Williams was given this beat in the first place. I certainly hope she will be back by August 1st as promised.

As we continued back down 18th Street, the sergeant got a call for something happening in the garage. We walked down into the garage with her and waited while she straightened out the mishap. The garage seemed to be about twenty degrees hotter than it was on the street. It was easy to see how tempers could flare down there. When we walked out of the garage, it was 3:55 AM. We walked to Sergeant Williams car for one short last ride.As she was picking up speed, she got a phone call and pulled over to the corner of California and 18th to take the call. Coincidentally, this was where we wanted to be let out.

We walked two buildings up California, until we got to Stacey’s building. I got my bike and left. I rode up the west sidewalk of 18th Street.The west sidewalk is never as crowded or messy as the east side, a safer bike ride than up 18th Street. The whole street scape was calming down. At the corner, I took the bike lane up the hill and got home by 4:10 AM. Indeed it was a night to remember.

With greater insight into the MPD perspective, especially of the officers and “reimbursibles” who maintain order on 18th Street, I am hoping that this commissioner and others will be able to work more easily with MPD (and other relevant agencies) to reach an informed solution to the perennial problems the 18th Street Club Zone presents the police and the community.

I did not take any photographs during this walk because I did not find it necessary. Commissioner Moye and I walked down 18th Street earlier in the wee hours, and I took photos then. They’ll be posted in the following article. There was not a whole lot to show because it was a relatively calm night on 18th Street.

Maybe due to the calmness of this particular night, the walk helped us see more easily the roots of the problems on 18th Street. Another night and another walk-around/ride-around might be a whole different story.

Many thanks to Sergeant Sherrelle Williams for sharing her time and insight with us.

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