District Police determined to make N Street NW behind Luther Place Memorial Church safe for youngsters once again, are directing prostitutes away from the area by quadrupling the number of officers on patrol. p
The effort to keep uniformed officers on duty between Vermont and 14th from noon to 6 p.m. every day began a week ago today and has successfully steered the prostitutes away from the steps of the church's day-care center, where 70 children come daily to learn and play.
"It's beautiful out here," John Steibruck, the church's pastor, said shortly after the patrols began. "This street is ours once again and now we can get the kids back on the playground that's rightfully theirs."
For nearly a year, women dressed in everything from bikinis to rhinestone-studded evening gowns have been staking out positions along the fence across from the church as early as 6 a.m., posturing, posing and snapping their fingers to attract passersby.
The women's scant attire and foul language had so upset the day-care center's director, Jeanette Williams, that she no longer allowed the children to play on the church playground. The play area now is strewn with broken glass and cigarette butts.
In recent months, the center's supervisors instead have ushered the children seven blocks away to the Stead Recreation Center at 16th and P streets.
But now that it looks like the prostitutes may stay away, Williams plans to get the playground back in shape so the children can play on the jungle gym and slides as they did before the invation of the prostitutes.
"I always felt so frustrated when they (the prostitutes) were out there," Williams said. "This is a wonderful improvement, just wonderful."
Police were spurred to begin patrolling the block more heavily after last week's N Street Village Day when the block was barricaded with tables at each end to keep away traffic and prostitutes.
Seeing that the prostitutes kept their distance, Steinbruck asked Police Lt. Edwin Casey, who is in charge of the prostitution detail, to put officers out there for a month. He agreed.
The prostitution squad may supervise the area for several more weeks, then wait to see if the activity returns.
"It's not really a curable problem, but this seems to be helping," Casey said. Police have patrolled the area erratically for several years, he added.
Neighborhood residents and parents whose children attend the center said they are thrilled the area has been cleared of prostitution activity in the last week.
"I have a daughter who regularly was approached by those pimps when she was walking home," said Elmer Brooks, commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C02. "I'm just thrilled to have them gone, I hope it's permanent."
Said another parent, whose 4-year-old son attends the center, "I noticed as soon as I came to pick him up that they were gone. Gone, just as clear as I can see. Where they went, I don't care. My son's happier and that makes me very thankful."
Eventually, Steinbruck and Williams hope the block will be permanently blocked off to street traffic. Matthew Shannon, Mayor Marion Barry's special assistant for religious affairs, said it is a possibility, but many details must be worked out first. He offered no guarantees.
"But there's a first for everything," said Alan Grip, the mayor's spokesman. "This just might be the case that would seal the block off permanently. I imagine that would make a lot of people very happy."