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Police Suspend Trinidad Checkpoint Program

By Allison Klein and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 13, 2008

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier yesterday suspended the checkpoint program that screened people driving into the troubled Trinidad neighborhood, acting after a night that left eight people shot at six locations elsewhere in the city.

Officials have not ruled out setting up checkpoints in Trinidad and other areas in the future, but there are no immediate plans to do so, authorities said.

None of the violence took place in the 5th Police District, the section of Northeast Washington where police have stepped up enforcement after recent killings. Police began operating a checkpoint Saturday night on Montello Avenue NE, and it was up and running Wednesday, its last day in operation.

All the victims survived. They included three men, hit in a drive-by shooting; a woman, shot in the back; and an 11-year-old, grazed in the wrist when he and friends allegedly played with a gun, police said. In the other cases, a man was shot during a confrontation with police, a woman was wounded when she and a friend were attacked by a group of assailants and a man was shot leaving a carry-out restaurant.

Police said the shootings are not related. No one has been arrested in any of the cases.

Under the Neighborhood Safety Zones program announced by Lanier and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) last week, the chief may run a checkpoint for five days and then issue an order extending it for five more.

Messages left for Lanier seeking comment on why she stopped the Trinidad checkpoint were returned by her spokeswoman, Traci Hughes, who said there were a variety of reasons for ending the checkpoints, including that officers had gathered intelligence.

The program, in which all drivers must justify their purpose for being in a targeted area, has been criticized by civil rights groups, D.C. council members and residents who said police are overstepping their power.

"As crime occurs elsewhere in this city, they're going to have to go back to community policing," said council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who is holding a hearing Monday on the initiative.

"Checkpoints aren't going to stop crime," Mendelson said.

Under community policing strategies, officers work with residents to find solutions. Lanier did not seek community input before launching the checkpoint, a source of complaint from some residents. But other residents praised the effort.

Between Saturday and 5 p.m. yesterday, police ran the Montello Avenue checkpoint on 10 occasions, for about two hours each time. More than 700 vehicles were allowed through; 46 were turned away.

There were no shootings in Trinidad while the checkpoint was in effect, and police said that shows the program was a success.

But there was violence in other areas of the city. Wednesday's shootings erupted at 7:30 p.m., when an officer was sent to the 2000 block of C Street NE to check on a person staggering in the road. Police said the man grabbed the officer's collapsible baton and hit him on the head several times. The officer, whose name was not released, then fired once, striking the man in the shoulder, police said.

The 11-year-old boy was shot in the wrist about 10:20 p.m. in the 1500 block of 45th Street NE, police said. About 10:50 p.m., three men were wounded in their legs in a drive-by shooting in the 600 block of Park Road NW, police said. Officers found one man on the scene, and a short time later, two other men hit in the shooting arrived at a hospital, police said. Investigators do not know of a motive.

Then, just before midnight, a woman was shot in the back in the 5100 block of Fitch Street SE.

The busy night continued at 12:05 a.m., when a man in his early 20s was wounded in a shoulder as he left a carryout in the 2100 block of Alabama Avenue SE, police said.

At 1:15 a.m., officers raced to the 2700 block of Douglass Place SE and found a 19-year-old woman with a graze wound to her head. A group of gunmen attacked her and a man, authorities said. The couple ran into an apartment building seeking safety, but the barrage of gunfire pierced the outer walls, police said. Police found shell casings from two handguns and a shotgun in the apartment complex's parking lot.

Shortly after 2 a.m., a victim walked into Greater Southeast Community Hospital with a gunshot wound in the back. The victim told D.C. police that he had been attacked at the Southern Avenue Metro station, in Prince George's County near the D.C. border.

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