A group of Columbia Heights residents, angered by increasing crime and drug activity in their Northwest neighborhoood, met with 3rd District police last week and demanded improved police protection.
About 80 area residents, gathered in the basement of Greater First Baptist Church on 13th Street NW, listened as representatives of the group read a list of demands handwritten on white placards.
The demands included: A call for increased foot patrols in the area; regular monthly meetings with 3rd District Deputy Police Chief Rodwell Catoe, who was unable to attend; more police cruisers patrolling the neighborhood, and quicker responses from officers in the drug unit when residents call in complaints on weekends.
During the meeting, 3rd District Capt. Bruce T. McDonald agreed to three of the four major demands, denying only the request for meetings with Catoe. But at its close, the organizers vowed to continue their organizing until the problems are alleviated.
The meeting was called by the Southern Columbia Heights Tenants Union (SCHTU), which represents about 400 area homeowners and apartment tenants in an area bounded by Columbia Road, 15th Street, Georgia and Florida avenues. SCHTU was formed two years ago to fight for tenants rights. But its effort now includes stemming a rise in the number of drug pushers and users that residents complain are loitering in hallways and abandoned houses of their neighborhood.
McDonald said two new officer-scheduling plans will ensure an adequate number of officers on duty, especially during "peak hours of criminal activity." He also urged Columbia Heights residents to become involved in a citywide police informant program called "Operation Watchful Eye."
According to McDonald, the program teaches citizens how to identify potential drug users and provide the drug enforcement unit with the kind of information that will be useful in arresting and successfully prosecuting them.
"All of the informants are assigned numbers, McDonald said, "so that no names are used and everything remains confidential."
"The drug problem in that area is about as bad as it can be without being a full-scale epidemic," Lt. Ronald Harvey of the 3rd District summed up the neighborhood's problems. "If it got much worse it would spread very quickly," said Harvey who was not at the meeting.
SCHTU leaders contend that recent police crackdowns and the construction of the new municipal building at 14th and U streets has forced the illicit drug traffic from the 14th Street corridor further north into their neighborhood.
The group's treasurer, Rubie King, said she often sees a drug dealer called "Candyman" making payoffs to drug runners in front of her apartment building on Euclid Street and is concerned for her 5-year-old son.
"I try to keep him away from it before he knows what is going on. They see him on the street and they are friendly to him and I fear that he may be influenced by what he sees on the street."
"We could have predicted that the drugs would go to other areas once we put the pressure on 14th Street," said McDonald, "but drug users have decided that there are particular locations in this neighborhood that are good places to shoot up."
"I want you all to be angry because crime is taking over this neighborhood. What we want and what we need is more police protection and we are tired of the runaround," King said.
Ward 1 City Council member Frank Smith spoke briefly about his controversial anti-loitering bill currently before the city council which he said will help eliminate the problem.
The bill would enable police and community leaders to designate their neighborhoods as "No Loitering Zones," and an individual caught in the area with the apparent intent of using or distributing drugs would be arrested.
SCHTU organizer Bob Hulteen said fear has kept people from getting involved and said they will be holding more meetings and increasing their efforts to organize the community.
"We have got to show some gumption," said Dorothy Griffin of Euclid Street, "if we don't join together now, we are all going to be a lost cause."