All of the burgeoning development is being helped along by an agency that just years earlier might have been seen as an unlikely partner: the Metropolitan Police Department. Chief Cathy L. Lanier is embedding police commanders with developers in the belief that the way things are built can influence the behaviors of criminals and potential victims, much as speed bumps can slow cars.
Last month, Lanier; Daniel P. Hickson, commander of the department’s First District; and developers met at the future site of the Wharf to pore over a scale model and discuss surveillance cameras and sight lines. Hickson called the model “very impressive” even as he contemplated finding a contingent of officers to patrol an area that, at present, requires relatively little attention.
The concept of police working with developers is not unique to Washington, but experts say Lanier’s department is ahead of many of its peers. While some offer a stock list of design recommendations, D.C. police make specific suggestions about safety measures as blueprints are being drawn, well before the first buckets of concrete are poured.
The District learned its lesson with Gallery Place. The explosion of entertainment, restaurants and night life in the area is seen as a cornerstone of the District’s redevelopment. But the crowds and traffic have challenged police, who bemoan a missed opportunity to help design a more safety-oriented downtown when it was first envisioned decades ago.
Bernard Melekian, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said such efforts take “community policing to the next level.”
“It’s not going on everywhere, and it should,” said Melekian, former police chief of Pasadena, Calif. “Once these projects are done, the police are purely reactionary.”
Police have long sought to promote public safety through design, encouraging such common-sense features as bright streetlights, discouraging secluded footpaths and laying out roads to make it difficult to circle a block.
Today, however, police across the country offer even more detailed ideas.
In Los Angeles, police encourage gardeners to plant blackberry bushes because the spiny branches are hard for burglars to crawl through. Seattle police urge bank managers to trim hedges so that the front door is visible from the street. And in San Diego, police warn against street planters that, while visually appealing, might clog sidewalks if used as stools.