Graham, residents assail D.C. police redistricting plan
By Victor Zapana and Clarence Williams,
During a month-long tour of the District, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has promoted a plan to redraw the city’s seven police districts, largely earning the approval of residents she has met.
But she has had less success in Mount Pleasant and Park View, two Northwest neighborhoods where residents have flocked to community meetings and hearings. They have said they don’t think Lanier’s proposal will lower crime, and they worry about severing ties with police officials who have monitored their neighborhoods for years.
The concerns illustrate what some residents say they want from law enforcement officials: a focus on human connections, accountability and stability, rather than what they perceive as tinkering for an uncertain outcome, at best.
“What you’re doing is moving our crime into the 4th District,” Claudia Schlosberg said at a recent Mount Pleasant community meeting. “Changing your district does not change our crime.”
Lanier’s plan would transfer neighborhoods in some busy districts to others so police could handle emergency calls more evenly; Mount Pleasant, Park View and a police substation at 750 Park Rd. would move from the 3rd to the 4th District. This, Lanier says, would reduce police response times and allow officers more time to patrol and be “proactive” in preventing crime.
Lanier also says she wants to shrink patrol areas across the city so they are easier to manage. In combination, she says, these changes should reduce crime — though there is no guarantee. “I don’t have a crystal ball,” she said when pressed by D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) at a hearing July 6.
Lanier says she wants to manage her force more effectively but acknowledges she hasn’t convinced some residents that the plan, to be launched by year’s end, would help them. Although she can implement the redistricting without the council’s approval, Graham recently introduced a bill to change that.
“They haven’t made the case,” said Graham, who wants to keep current 3rd and 4th District boundaries that mostly align with his ward’s.
Some Park View and Mount Pleasant residents say they don’t want to abandon relationships with 3rd District officials who are familiar with their neighborhoods, know many residents by name and participate regularly in online and real-world conversations.
Others don’t want Graham, ANC commissioners and community activists to have to split time working with two district police forces. Cliff Valenti, who lives in Park View, said he thinks extending police districts into multiple wards makes it harder for politicians to hold officers accountable.
“The substation is now going to have two councilpeople competing for resources for potential problems,” Valenti said. “It seems better to have one point of contact.”
About 40 residents attended a community meeting June 22 with police and Graham at La Casa Community Center in Mount Pleasant. When Mount Pleasant ANC Commissioner Jack McKay asked attendees to raise their hands if they supported the plan, no one did.
At a meeting June 29 at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School in Park View, Dolores Tucker, 82, said she did not want the substation to move. “If you take that precinct, I will fight you to the end,” she said.
Lanier said she needs to “alleviate” an overloaded 3rd District, which has the city’s highest crime density: About 18 percent of the District’s total crime has occurred in the 3rd District over the past year, compared with roughly 10 percent in the 4th District, according to police statistics.
The volume of calls in high-density districts makes it difficult for officers to talk on the radio — an issue that could put them in jeopardy if they cannot call for backup or other resources, Lanier said.
“We’re starting to see that already,” she said. “It’s becoming dangerous for police officers in those areas.”
And when, at the July 6 hearing, Graham said there was “no basis” that the plan would reduce crime, the chief responded: “How about 21 years of policing in the city, sir?”
Not all of the dozens of residents who have attended citywide meetings over the past month are against Lanier’s plan. The 5th District Citizens Advisory Council passed a resolution last month supporting it.
“I think I understand what she is trying to do,” said Kent Boese, an ANC commissioner who lives in a part of Park View that wouldn’t be affected by the change. “She has very limited resources, and she’s trying to balance things out.”
“I still don’t think it’s the best solution,” said Boese, who wants the police department to have more officers.
And some council members’ opinions on the plans vary. Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), much of whose ward is in the 4th District, says she is not convinced that Mount Pleasant should be moved. Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who co-introduced legislation similar to Graham’s in 2003, says he is inclined to let Lanier determine the boundaries.
Lanier says officers are fine-tuning the new boundaries with help from communities. Residents can offer comments until mid-July, and Lanier said she would be willing to tinker with them after they are put in place and to update residents and the council on their effects.
The boundaries will be finalized about Aug. 1, Lanier said. Police will need several months to update computer systems and determine officer assignments based on the new boundaries.