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E-Mail Sites Enlist Neighborhood Crime Fighters

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page C04

When a resident of Northwest Washington's Brightwood Park neighborhood grew frustrated over drug dealing near her home last month, she got on her computer, signed on to a police-sponsored bulletin board and pleaded for help.

"I live on Longfellow Street," wrote the woman. "And yet I feel like I live in Amsterdam! You'd think we'd legalize drugs if you drove down our street. Open-air market doesn't describe the activity enough. These drug dealers don't even bother to hide in alleys. They just stand on corners in broad daylight."

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The woman, identified only as "monica1st" in the e-mail, continued: "We've got too many drug dealers in our neighborhood that drain our community, scare away the police and terrorize us 'decent' citizens. What is a resident to do?"

Other neighborhood residents began posting similar comments. Soon, D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who represents the area, joined in the Web discussion, announcing plans for a community meeting with police to address the problem.

The exchange was part of a growing effort on the part of D.C. police to harness the Internet as a crime-fighting and communications tool. Started a year ago as an experiment in one part of town, the police e-mail bulletin boards -- known as list servers -- have quickly grown to cover many city neighborhoods. More than 750 residents are members of the police Internet groups, police said.

The police department's Web site -- www.mpdc.dc.gov -- has information for people who want to sign up.

Police said the ventures have encouraged more people to participate anonymously in anti-crime discussions and have been an effective way to share information with other community networks.

Fenty, who said he closely monitors the discussions, is a supporter of the approach. Police officials appear more responsive to community complaints and tips since the e-mail groups began, he said.

"They are community meetings in themselves," Fenty said. "What one person knows, everybody on the lists knows."

The trouble on Longfellow Street is a good example, he said. "What we found, it wasn't just one person concerned about crime. There were lots of people, and lots of people were weighing in. Not everyone makes meetings."

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