The uniformed D.C. police officers strolled along 14th Street. Holding a movie camera in one hand, one officer filmed the scene. "Take my picture, take my picture," a short, stocky woman screamed as she reeled back and forth with a wine bottle in hand.
The two men shook their heads and continued walking. "Oh, that's our friend," one officer said nonchalantly. A slim man clad in blue jeans strutted by. As he approached the two officers, he pulled his jacket over his head to shield his face, muttering an oath as he did so.
Welcome to Operation Burbank, a new program geared to fight the increased crime and drug trafficking in the Third District. In addition to the two strolling officers, there were three others posted outside a blue-and-white tractor trailer identified by the lettering, "Crime Prevention," and clearly identified as a police vehicle.
The truck with a camera mounted atop the cab was parked in front of a vacant lot near 14th Street and Wallach Place NW, which in recent days had been swarming with drug dealers and addicts. Yesterday, no one, other than policemen, stood near the lot.
A block away, at 14th and T streets NW, a crowd of nearly 100 men and women gathered. In a nearby alley, there was another cluster of about 50 people. Whenever the cameras came near, the crowd moved.
"They are just harassing the people," said one of the men standing at 14th and T. "They can't stop the trafficking. They can't stop the people. A lot of people been here all their lives."
"They are violating my constitutional rights," said a short, neatly dressed man in a brown corduroy jacket. "They can't just come up here and take our pictures."
A tall man walked up to the neatly dressed man in the corduroy jacket and was heard to ask for "two bags." The pair walked around the corner, away from the cameras.
According to Deputy Police Chief Rodwell M. Catoe, the picture taking by the uniformed officers does not violate any law. "We are not violating the rights of innocent people," he said. He said the officers were filming only those persons suspected of or actually involved in criminal activity. But, he emphasized, "we are not violating anyone's constitutional rights" even in those cases.
Catoe said Operation Burbank was instituted because of an increase in crime and drug activity in the area. Last Friday, 52 major crimes were reported in the district, and "the junkies are taking over the area," he said.
In addition to the cameras, Catoe said police are using other new technology, but he refused to offer details. He said the operation also will focus on heavy drug trafficking areas, including the 1900 block of Ninth Street NW, 7th and T streets NW and 14th and Chapin streets NW.