Hispanic residents of the city's Fourth Police District are fighting plans to move the district's police center at 3247 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, to a location at 14th and Columbia Road NW. The residents say the proposed location would be less accessible to the Spanish-speaking population of the area.
At a public hearing held recently "as a courtesy" by Fourth District Deputy Police Chief Charles Troublefield, about 15 people present asked that the center remain in its present location. They also charged that the center is not open often enough and that its staff is "ineffective."
The Fourth District is bounded by Harvard Street NW, Eastern Avenue NW, Rock Creek NW and Galatin Street NE.
Troublefield said that visits and phone calls to the center had declined over the past year and a half since a similar center had opened in the neighboring third district. He added that there had been an especially marked decline in contacts by Spanish-speaking residents.
The 14th Street area is a high crime neighborhood, he told the gathering, and many of the residents expected to move into newly built housing in the area will be elderly.
"It would be wise for us to get in on the ground floor and protect those people," he said, adding that a location on 14th Street would enable the center's staff to reach a larger segment of the community.
"We know the lack-of-clients phenomena is being used as an excuse to camouflage the real cause of low clientele," said Juan Pedroza, in a statement prepared by the Council of Hispanic Agencies. "But the true problem is not lack of clients but the inefficient and ineffective center personnel."
Pedroza is a former Fourth District police officer and directed the Mt. Pleasant Street center until April of last year, when he quits his police job to become director of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Spanish-speaking residents.
"We don't need to move the center," said another Hispano present at the hearing. "We need to have better service."
Officer Larry Moss, who now heads the center, later disputed charges that he and his staff are not doing a good job.
"I don't feel that there has been any decrease in services to the Latin community. We're quite available," he said. "We're here 30 to 40 hours a week. Anybody that would challenge that should stop by the center sometime."
Moss added that when officers are not staffing the center, they are often out in the neighborhood engaged in crime prevention programs.
Troublefield blames the problems in staffing the center on a decrease in manpower. According to Troublefield the district has 70 fewer policemen than it did four years ago.
Hispanic leaders charged that the proposed move is evidence that the D.C. government is neglecting the needs of their community.
"Of critical concern to us is whether this move is symbolic of any subtle direction on the part of the Fourth District and the police department to eliminate what little service our Hispanic community receives," Pedroza said in his statement.
Troublefield said the final decision on the move is now up to D.C. Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson. He added that he supports the alternative that will give "thebroadest service to the community."