Lanier's Bid to Move Police District Boundaries Provokes Anxiety

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 10, 2007

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier wants to change the boundaries of two police districts by merging a high-crime area into the district with the city's fewest crimes, leaving some residents in upper Northwest concerned that the shift will decrease their level of protection.

Under Lanier's plan, Dupont Circle, some of the U Street corridor and part of downtown -- an area that has a large number of robberies and thefts -- would become part of the police department's 2nd District, which includes such calmer neighborhoods as Cleveland Park, Georgetown and Palisades.

"This is a big deal," said Spence Spencer, president of the Palisades Citizens Association. "Most concerning is that there will be a de facto drain of resources away from us."

The point of the move is to ease the workload on the busy 3rd District, which handles 21 percent of the city's emergency calls, said Assistant Chief Peter Newsham. The 2nd District handles about 5 percent, police statistics show.

"Operationally, it would be very helpful," Newsham said of the proposed change. "For the city as a whole, we would be better off."

Newsham said that the 3rd District -- which includes such neighborhoods as Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Shaw -- is very busy, and that the district's radio communications system is often overloaded. For example, during a routine traffic stop, officers sometimes must wait for radio traffic to slow in order to ask the dispatch center to run a check on a license plate.

The city is divided into seven police districts, each with its own radio communications center. The districts are further broken down into smaller areas known as police service areas, or PSAs.

The last time the boundaries of the districts were changed was in 2004, when then-Chief Charles H. Ramsey adjusted the lines in response to population and crime.

The area now being considered for a change, PSA 306, has about the same number of violent crimes as the entire district it would be merged with. From June 12 last year to June 11 this year, PSA 306 had about 233 violent crimes, compared with 237 violent crimes in the 2nd District, police data show.

Some residents who live in the 2nd District said they fear that if the proposed change happens, their beat officers will be pulled away from their regular posts to deal with the more active neighborhoods.

"We want to keep what we have and maintain a very good crime record," Spencer said.

Newsham said the officers who patrol PSA 306 would stay on their beats, but the area would be renamed PSA 208, and the officers would report to a 2nd District commander.

Police have planned two community meetings to get input on Lanier's plan. One is at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th Street NW. The other is at 6:30 p.m. July 18 at St. Columba's Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle Street NW. Newsham is scheduled to attend both sessions, along with police commanders.

Rob Halligan, president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, said that he has not

decided whether to back the idea but that his neighborhood could benefit from being in the 2nd District.

"We will have the most serious crime in the 2nd District, so we'll get more attention," he said.

The change is likely to increase the overall crime statistics in the 2nd District, which historically has had crime levels more like those in nearby Montgomery County than the rest of the city.

Cleveland Park resident Bill Adler said he is open to the idea.

"It's not like I live my entire life in Cleveland Park and don't go to Dupont Circle or Logan Circle for dinner sometimes," Adler said. "Crime is fluid. We have to share."

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