Near the corner of Sixth and Chesapeake streets SE, a large, green burial company truck with a drunk at the wheel slams into a parked car, knocking it onto the sidewalk, buckling its wheels underneath, totaling it.
The truck driver was so drunk, witnesses said, he had to hold onto the truck to stand up. But when a Seventh District patrolman arrived, he did not administer a breathalyzer test.
"The officer's attitude became very nonchalant when I asked him to lock this man up for being drunk and running into my car," the other driver said.
"The officer was quite sarcastic and smooth. He said, 'Well, here's the forms, fill them out. That's all I'm going to do for you.'"
The man might have been hopped up on drugs or drunk or both. He was nude from the waist up and staggered precipitously, shouting ccurses at the man in a nearby doorway on U Street NW, just east of 16th.
He variously branished a two-by-four, bottles, whatever he found on the street. After about half an hour, a Third District policeman drove up, but he simply sat in the car, watching the man. After a couples minutes he pulled off, without leaving the car of saying a word. The tirade continued.
No one says it's true of every cop in town, but police across the city say morale is drastically down on the force and it has become increasingly common for it to show up on the street as insensitive, indifferent treatment of the people they serve.
"Some police officers are just plain mad," said Officer Robert Jenkins, a 10-year veteran on the force. "They'll say, 'I ain't got a pay raise, I'm going to take it out on the public. If the city needs more money, I'm going to do all I can to get it some [through tickets]. I'm going to toe the line.' I know some of us act pretty bad out on the street."
Officer Reggie Moore, on the force 12 years, agrees. "The average citizen is likely to be shortchanged because of the problems the police are having," he said.
The problems the police are having include not having received a pay raise since 1975, a reduced work force, promotion complaints, uneasiness with laws that they feel favor the criminal and handcuff the police and, finally, what is often perceived as an unappreciative public.
"If I come to your house and my personal life is in order, you're going to get pretty good service," Moore continues. "But if I have problems, then you're in trouble. I won't be interested in what happens to you."
That attitude is confirmed by Tommy Tague, president of the D.C. chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police and a 22-year police veteran who retired last year as a sergeant.
"Sure the citizens are suffering from the internal problems of the police department. They're getting poor response [and] poor reaction from the officers on the street.
"The police department is becoming more concerned and leary of repercussions," he said. "There are four different bodies to judge police actions. Officers fear that they might be doing the wrong thing by jumping into a certain situation. So they are more likely to doubt themselves or ignore certain situations in order to avoid a civil suit."
According to Lt. Hiram Brewton, a police department spokesman, the city has about 3,400 police officer, 480 short of the "authorized strength." However, Brewton said the manpower shortage does not constitute a weakness.
The shortage is concentrated among the force's street officers who say it places added pressure on them.
"Top performance is expected of us, but we're not being paid for it," Moore said. "That's my feeling, but I think that sums up what other officers feel."
Jenkins does. "It's disheartening to know more and more responsibilities are being put on you and you're not given a riase, you're not being promoted and you're not sure you'll be working next year," he said. Such concerns naturally affect police performance, he said, because "your financial security is you number one priority."
Jenkins drives a squad car and patrols the Third District, which includes the 14th Street corridor. He says that the relationship between the police and the community is deteriorating not only because of the low morale among police officers, but also because of the general public's insensitivity. "People know that crime is going up [and that] there's a lot of larceny. So when you stop a guy for a traffic ticket, he starts bitching about you ought to be out catching thieves."
According to Officer Lowell Duckett, who has a suit pending against the police department in which he alleges unfair promotion practices, "There are no incentivies for police to do extra." Most of the patrol force, Duckett said, is doing just enough to get by: "Everybody's . . . going to work and going home on time." Duckett, a 12-year veteran, adds, "The only thing holding this thing together is pride, and that's running thin."
Duckett, who also works in the Third District, said, "The police don't control 14th Street [NW] anymore. The drug dealers, the junkies and the prostitutes do. We clean it up again, then give it back again. You think these guys are going to put their lives on the line to keep cleaning it up and you're going to give it back eventually anyway?"
To qualify for a promotion, a police officer must have a certain amount of experience, attain a competitive score on a standarized test and go before an assement board. But, Ducket complains, in order to get ahead in the department, one also must know the right people in the right places. "If you're not in the right clique, you ain't going nowhere," he said.
Under guidelines that went into effect last May, there will no longer be meritorious promotions -- that is, under most circumstances, an officer's job performance will play little if any part in his being promoted.
Consequently, police officers are apt to put more emphasis on studying for tests than serving the public, contends Goldie Johnson, 15-year president of the Metropolitan Police Wives Association.
"Deputy chiefs are so busy trying to get a promotion that they can't run their precincts," she said. "It always hurts the citizens.""
The friendly neighborhood street cop is rare in D.C. nowadays, Johnson said. "If a policeman tries to relate to the community too much, his supervisors accuse him of being a social worker."
Office Rita Clay, who has been on the force seven years, said the quality of service a person receives from the police "all depends on the individual officer. Some have more rapport than others."
Clay, who works in the Second Distrct, which includes Georgetown, said, "Money talks. Most people in Georgetown feel that they are not a part of the rest of the city. They figure they are entitled to special privileges and sometimes [police] officials will go along with that."
Police spokesman Brewton underscored that: "Affluent people are treated differently than poverty stricken people. Society [treats people unequally] and we are part of society. We are expected to be perfect, but we aren't."