D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier says patrols in Chinatown are sufficient

By Derek Kravitz, Robert Thomson and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

D.C. police are already out in force in the Chinatown area and won't increase patrols unless Metro asks for more support, Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Monday after a weekend brawl in the rail system that involved dozens of people who boarded a train at the Gallery Place Metro station and wound up in a giant fight at the L'Enfant Plaza Station.

"Anything Metro wants, we're going to give them, because they are always there for us when we need them," she said.

Lanier said a sergeant and 10 officers are assigned to regularly patrol the Chinatown area. The fight led to the arrest of one adult and two juveniles, and the hospitalization of four people Friday night.

"There's always large crowds there," she said. "That's why we have a detail there." However, Lanier said the fight appeared to have begun on a train.

Metro board Chairman Peter Benjamin said the agency responded properly.

"Everyone with Metro did what they were supposed to do," he said. "This incident started outside Metro and officers at the station immediately called for help. Metro is incredibly safe."

According to Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief David Webb, the incident began when people in the Gallery Place entertainment district began heading for the Metro station because of the 11 p.m. curfew for youths. Webb said that D.C. police and transit police expect this on summer weekends.

Transit Police were watching the crowd when it arrived on the platform, Webb said, and although the youths were boisterous, there was no behavior that warranted arrests.

Dozens of the youths boarded the next Green Line train heading in the direction of Branch Avenue, he said. When the train arrived at L'Enfant Plaza about three minutes later, a big fight spilled onto the platform, Webb said. At least one Transit Police officer was already at L'Enfant and called for backup, which included officers who had been at Gallery Place, he said, and other customers also began calling police.

Webb said police were unsure what sparked the conflict but do not think it was a continuous fight that began at Gallery Place.

Metro board members said Monday they had not discussed the incident. Jeff C. McKay, a Metro board member and Fairfax County supervisor, said more transit police are needed to deter such fights.

"At the end of the day, the only way to intimidate young people from doing this type of stuff is to have a uniformed officer there and the only way you do that is to increase the number of transit police," McKay said.

It was the second reported brawl involving large numbers of young Metro riders in recent months, and some elected officials called for improved security and other approaches, such as extending the teen curfew.

Some Metro board members said they planned to address the issue when the board meets next month. Metro's board usually does not hold meetings in August but met Monday with members of the National Transportation Safety Board to discuss a report on the June 2009 Red Line crash.

Webb said Friday's incident was under investigation. People with information may call the investigations unit at 202-962-1792. Webb said that people who witness incidents should report them as soon as they see something that they perceive is unsafe. They can notify the train operator on the intercom at each end of a railcar or call Transit Police directly at 202-962-2121.

"We want the system to be safe," he said. The important thing to remember, Webb added, is to not deal with a troublemaker directly, which could escalate the situation: "Don't engage."

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