Police Chief Cathy Lanier faces challenges as D.C. and night life growPolice Chief Cathy Lanier faces challenges as D.C. and night life grow

April 10, 2013

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier knows what happens when night life proliferates. Having more than 10 bars on a block, she says, quadruples the work for her officers.

One block in Northwest Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood has 38 drinking establishments. And when they all close at once, one of the District’s go-to spots for weekend revelry is instantly overwhelmed.

Lanier said her officers “get pulled into the chaos” of drunken crowds, fights and traffic jams, leaving the outlying streets where many patrons park more vulnerable to crime.

“What happens to them?” Lanier said Wednesday during a presentation at the National Press Club about policing a changing city. “Someone is waiting to rob them, or somebody has already broken into their car.”

So Lanier is revamping her policing strategy in Adams Morgan even as she makes plans for more than a dozen other neighborhoods, in various stages of development, some of them destined to become nighttime hot spots, she said. They include the city’s waterfront, U Street NW, H Street NE and the newly minted NoMa, a neighborhood named for its location north of Massachusetts Avenue.


Reassessing police strategy as development booms across the city has been a theme of D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s in recent years. (Matt Zapotosky/The Washington Post)

Reassessing police strategy as development booms across the city has been a theme of Lanier’s in recent years. The chief talks about reading development plans as much as crime-fighting plans, working with urban planners to incorporate safety into the design of projects. But Lanier admitted in Wednesday’s presentation that it’s hard to keep up. She wants 100 additional officers — which would raise the total to more than 4,000 — to stay ahead of crime across the city, including areas not fully developed.

Lanier was candid about early failures. When Chinatown burst into an entertainment hub, she said, the response was too slow, and police had to go in full force to reclaim the area.

If she had been involved in planning development around Verizon Center — which went up before she was chief — as she is now in other parts of the city, she would have called for wider sidewalks to accommodate the crowds, she said. In Adams Morgan, she said, she would have advised against clustering so many bars on a single block.

Each development brings particular problems. Last month, 13 people were shot in front of Tyler House, an apartment building on the edge of NoMa, blocks from new retail outlets and condominium projects. The incident alarmed newcomers and frustrated old-timers, groups whose conflicting worldviews Lanier must negotiate as redevelopment continues.

Some of the victims had come from a nearby nightclub that can hold 1,500 people and was built when the area was industrial. Now, a new hotel stands across the street, and it struggles, Lanier said, to rent the rooms facing the street on weekend nights, when the club is busy and loud.

Her job, she said, is to ensure “a livable environment for everybody.”

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