Police Close Streets In Trinidad to Steer Drivers to Checkpoint

By Allison Klein and Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

D.C. police stepped up efforts last night to curb violence in the hard-pressed Trinidad neighborhood of Northeast Washington, choking off access to several streets there to force drivers to pass through the new anti-crime checkpoint, Chief Cathy L. Lanier said.

The Montello Avenue checkpoint, where police demanded that motorists account for their presence in the neighborhood, was set up Saturday night for the first time, but some drivers circumvented it by using nearby streets to enter Trinidad, Lanier said.

She said police were "going to be narrowing the funnel a little bit" by guiding the flow of traffic toward Montello Avenue. However, it appeared that the number of officers assigned last night was insufficient to fully implement the plan, and the strategy took on many aspects of a work in progress.

"We're looking at different ways to control traffic patterns," Cmdr. Melvin Scott said.

As traffic backed up, officers found it necessary to remove traffic cones that were intended to close some of the streets. Nevertheless, the checkpoint operated on Montello Avenue, where motorists were questioned closely about their reasons for being there and were asked to provide identification.

On Saturday, police turned away about half of the 50 cars that tried to pass through the checkpoint. Twenty-six drivers were denied access because they "refused to give enough information to continue through Trinidad," said police spokeswoman Traci Hughes, offering the first statistical review of the law enforcement activities.

The neighborhood had no shootings over the weekend, officials said, proclaiming the checkpoint program a success. Trinidad appeared quiet again last night, police said.

The checkpoint was suspended Sunday night for operational reasons unconnected to any complaints, Lanier said, but resumed last night.

Police did stop some cars on nearby streets Sunday, but only to check for seat-belt use.

In announcing her "Neighborhood Safety Zone" initiative last week, Lanier said the checkpoint in Trinidad would run for five days and then perhaps for another five.

Police ran the checkpoint on Montello Avenue for about two hours Saturday, starting at 7:45 p.m. They made one arrest, for driving with an open container of alcohol. Four other drivers who were turned away asked to speak to a police supervisor but were still denied access.

Under Lanier's program, which she said she plans to replicate in other troubled parts of the city, only people with a "legitimate purpose" can pass through the checkpoints. Acceptable reasons include visiting someone or attending a community or religious event.

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