The young lawyer had just finished explaining to members of the Sixth Police District Citizens Advisory Council that a district judge cannot set an unreasonably high bail to detain a person who may pose a threat to the community.
The crowd seemed surprised. A man rose and cited a recent murder in Anacostia and asked if the suspect could be released on bail. The attorney answered yes, Congress made the laws that way.
"So then we have to get a move on Congress to change the law," he concluded angrily, and sat down to the applause of his friends and neighbors.
Residents in the Sixth Police District are used to organizing against crime. With the largest population of youths under 21 in the city, the area bounded by the Anacostia River, Southern Avenue, Eastern Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue has managed to maintain the lowest reported crime increases in Washington during the past five years.
The first police advisory councils were created in 1968 by the police department to improve community relations. According to Albert Long, one of the first council chairmen, much of the council's efforts at the time focused on the integration of police patrol cars.
In 1970, councils were formally organized in each of the city's seven police districts. Each month, the District police chief holds a meeting with the elected chairmen of each council.
During the early years, officials in the Sixth District -- originally two precincts and now the second largest district in the city -- found that without funding, the councils were a good idea but involved only those who attended monthly council meetings.
"What we found we could not do was to alert the citizens to the dangers of crime unless we had some money to relate the information to the community we were trying to serve," explained Long.
So in 1976, the council coordinated an effort to get federal funding for council programs and formed the Sixth Police District Crime Prevention Project Inc.
Since then, the council has received two grants from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration -- one in 1976 for $25,000 and the other in 1978 for $221,496.
Today, the Sixth District Crime Prevention Project Inc. directed by a 15-member board of directors, pays 17 part-time and full-time employes. The highest salary paid is approximately $19,000 a year.
Other councils have received government funding, but the Sixth District council is the only one to form committees to tackle specific problems, such as home security and property identification.
"Theirs is probably the strongest in the city," said Deputy Police Chief Houston Bigelow.
One of the major purchases made by the project is a 15-passenger bus used to transport senior citizens to and from the bank, grocery store, medical clinic and recreational activities. Senior citizens listen en route to tapes explaining how to guard against crime.
The council's rate of community participation is exceptionally high, says Sixth District Police Commander Theodore R. Carr. It is not unusual to have 50 or 60 people turn out for the council's monthly meetings.
Carr said that most of the people involved with the council take part in other civic activities, and that the council is often regarded as a "steppingstone" to higher city offices.
At this month's meeting, the community's leaders were well represented. In attendence were school teachers, church leaders, Advisory Neighborhood Commission representatives, former candidates for school board and city council. City Council member Willie J. Hardy (D-Ward 7) chaired the election of officers for the council.
The police in the Sixth District are also impressed with the council's monthly turnouts.
"A lot of them come here for politics," said Police Officer James Cox, adding that he doesn't doubt that other members are committed to community improvement.
"I think it helps the police. They come up with good ideas, like which places need special attention," he said.
"In a lot of areas, they've taken over a lot of what we do . . .It gives us a little breathing room," said Police Officer F. P. Levasseur.
The council helps police pinpoint trouble areas by organizing block captains who report their findings to police patrol cars.
Several police officers also agreed that the council's activities help citizens understand police procedures, such as searches and handcuffing.
"They realize the police have a job to do," explained Police Officer George Andes, a night patrolman. "Sometimes things get blown out of proportion. A guy hollers to his buddy that he's getting harassed and they want to go to battle. (The council) educates people why police do things a certain way."
The only criticism voiced by police officers was that the council does not promote enough youth programs, probably because most of the group's members are older, middle-class residents.
"The majority (of council members) come from pretty nice areas. That's the only bad thing," Police Officer Jay Lowery said.
Carrie Thornhill, director of the crime project, said that each month, crime statistics in the area are compiled by the police and reported to the community.
"Based on our analysis and the police department's, crime has continued to increase (throughout the city). It has increased in some areas and decreased in some areas. The Sixth District maintains the lowest increases (in the city)," Thornhill said.
Wesley Collins, president of the Far Northeast-Southeast Council of Civic Associations, explains that the Sixth District's crime-prevention activities as a natural response from an area which has most of the city's housing projects.
"We have to work harder to get ahead," he said.