On a calm summer evening recently, Doris Noble of Southwest placed three frantic calls to police to report that a man was "harassing" her neighbor.
At least 30 minutes passed before police arrived at Noble's quiet, tree-lined town house-condominum complex. During this time, police were told, Noble's neighbor was abducted, robbed and raped, and had walked back home.
The delay in police arrival was due partly to the error by a police dispatcher who initially sent scout cars to an address in Southeast instead of Southwest, according to a preliminary police investigation.
The victim's family, members of the Noble family, and their Capitol Park neighbors expressed outrage and said the rape could have been prevented if police had arrived promptly.
In an era when people, confronted with crime, often look the other way, Noble apparently acted without hesitation to alert police. Capitol Park residents said they, too, would continue to look out for their neighbors and, when necessary, get involved.
Three days after the rape, a woman's purse was snatched as she got out of her car in front of her Capitol Park home. A dozen neighbors responded almost immediately to the woman's cries for help.
"By the time I got outside, 10 people were already out there," said Sharlene Kranz, president of the Capitol Park II community organization. "One lady had a butcher knife . . . and two people were on the phone" to police.
Prompted by similar crimes, residents met with police last month to organize a Neighborhood Watch program intended to promote crime awareness, citizen alertness and individual involvement. They are also considering a Whistle Stop plan in which residents would carry and use whistles to signal others for help.
"This is a very small community," said Noble, 36, an eight-year Capitol Park resident. "There's the old-fashioned concept that everybody looks out for everyone else."
And yet, Wesley Long says that none of his Capitol Park neighbors helped his wife earlier this summer as she screamed and chased a car-tire thief. Only when it was all over, Long said, "someone came out and asked, 'What happened?' "
There are 80 homes in Capitol Park II, part of a complex of apartments and town houses between G and I streets, from Half to 4th streets SW. Maine Avenue's heavy tourist-restaurant trade and the Greenleaf Gardens public housing complex are nearby.
"It was freaky," said the rape victim's husband, who was at home when his wife was attacked. "Usually many people are coming and going . . . children playing. But this night not much was going on."
Shortly after 6 p.m., Noble said, she was standing at her screen door, looking out onto the small grassy courtyard. A neighbor, a woman Noble's age, walked by with her small daughter. The mother and child were on their way home from a babysitter and were walking with a tall, shirtless teenager. Noble didn't recognize the young man. "I thought it was strange that she would be with him. She's a married woman," Noble said.
When she asked the neighbor to stop, the neighbor did not answer and the youth cursed back.
"That's when I got scared," Noble said. "I called police right then."
Police confirmed that they received Noble's first call at 6:15 p.m. but units didn't arrive until 6:46 p.m.
Meanwhile, the woman and her small daughter were forced to walk with the youth to an abandoned area nearby where the woman was raped. The youth threatened to stab the child with a screwdriver, according to police. The child witnessed the rape, police said, and was released with her mother when the youth fled after taking cash from the woman's purse.
In the meantime, Noble called police at least two more times while her husband Daniel and the victim's husband searched the neighborhood.
Mother and child had returned home on foot by the time police arrived.
First District Police Capt. Arif Mosrie said the delay was the result of a "combination of circumstances," including the police error and a failure of communication between caller and police dispatchers.
In her first call to police, Noble, who was unsure of the events that were unfolding, said the woman was being harassed. Ten minutes later she called again and said the woman was "missing."
Dispatchers considered the call a missing persons report, Mosrie said, which is not given high priority unless children or persons with mental or physical problems disappear.
When police still did not appear, Noble dialed 911 again at 6:40 p.m. Police arrived six minutes later.
"There was certainly a mistake. The correct address was given and the clerk entered it as Southeast," Mosrie said. "But other than that, based on the information that was given, you can't really say it was a mistake. If the victim had screamed and somebody had said it was an assault, we would've called it a Priority One," he said.
But Noble contended that "If someone continually calls for help, somebody should come over and see what the crazy woman is talking about."
At the recent meeting with police, Capitol Park residents complained about the incident and others in the area.
"I saw a burglary in my neighbor's apartment. It took the police 45 minutes to come," said Ron Anderson. "I don't feel safe in the neighborhood because it happens all the time."
No arrests have been made in the rape case. But in the meantime, Mosrie said, more police will be assigned to patrol the area. Neighbors said police on scooters, in cars and on foot are now highly visible.
However, some Capitol Park residents fear that in a few months police as well as neighborly concern will have dwindled.
"We've gone through cycles like this where there's heavy concern and then it cools off," Wesley Long said.
"I think its important that people get out of the house" when they hear trouble, Long said. "The first line of defense is us."