While planning the two-day gun buyback that netted 2,306 guns last week from across the District, police officials briefly considered videotaping area residents who turned in guns, in the hopes of linking them to open criminal cases, according to sources in the police department.
The idea was raised at a high-level meeting with top officials and commanders from the city's seven patrol districts, at whose headquarters the gun exchange was conducted, said two officials who were at the meeting.
"Everybody who was there, all of the district commanders, were opposed" to any videotaping, said one official, who asked not to be identified.
Although the district commanders said videotaping would undermine public trust in the police department, Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer did moderate a discussion of the idea's merits, the officials said.
Police promised amnesty from prosecution on gun charges to all people who turned in firearms. Buying or selling a handgun has been unlawful in the District since 1976.
The amnesty did not extend to other crimes. In reality, however, even if ballistic tests performed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reveal that a gun was involved in a crime, there would be no way of knowing who turned in that firearm.
In deciding to sponsor a gun buyback program, "we knew the downside, which is that you could get a gun [used] in a crime and not connect it with the person who brought it in," Gainer said. "But that was the risk that we took."
Gainer acknowledged that the idea of recording who turned in which guns was "summarily dismissed."
"There was a discussion about [whether] we should try to connect people with their guns: Should there be surveillance, should there be photographs taken, videos taken?" he said.
"And we said that was not in keeping with the spirit" of the gun exchange, whose focus was to take illegal handguns off the street.
Mansion Draws Wrath
One D.C. Council member calls it "illegal and dangerous," a "charade," and the result of "a pattern of favoritism and disregard for the law."
The topic of such ire? The opulent banquet hall and bed-and-breakfast in Dupont Circle known as the O Street Mansion.
Council member Sharon Ambrose's three-page letter to Douglas Patton, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, requests an investigation into how the mansion owner allegedly has circumvented city laws--and received favors from city officials--to assemble five buildings into a single complex on the 2000 block of O Street NW.
Ambrose says that the mansion owner has a full-time carpenter who has secretly cut passages through the buildings' walls to connect the properties. Ambrose claims violations of alcohol licensing rules, fire codes, building codes, historic preservation regulations and other city laws.
"Since District personnel are now on record of having approved illegal subdivisions and certificates of occupancy without looking further at the absence of permits and this illegal and dangerous construction, the District may be open to liability for its [role] in this charade of the law," Ambrose wrote.
The O Street Mansion has long been a subject of dissension in the neighborhood, with the Dupont Citizens Civic Association and other groups repeatedly taking owner H.H. Leonards to court to challenge the mansion's liquor license or try to shut it down.
On the first floor of the complex, there is a private club boasting about 300 members, where cocktail parties and wedding receptions and other social gatherings are regularly held. A city law limits the number of events each year to 208.
On the upstairs floors of the buildings, there are perhaps as many as 26 units that make up the bed and breakfast.
The objection from neighbors is that this kind of commercial operation--with the traffic and crowds it brings--should not be allowed in a residential neighborhood such as the 2000 block of O Street. Representatives from groups including the Federation of Citizens Associations, Georgetown Residence Alliance, Logan Circle Community Association and Kalorama Citizens Association have all joined in the protest, concerned about the precedent the establishment of the mansion might set, said Richard Nettler, an attorney for the groups.
"If the District does not enforce zoning regulations, building code and other regulations against the club there, what basis does it have to enforce against anyone else?" Nettler asked.
Stephen J. O'Brien, Leonards's attorney, said he would not comment on Ambrose's letter.
"I can't comment on something I have not seen," he said.
Jacqueline Wallace, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said the agency has been given a copy of Ambrose's letter, but would not say much else.
"Her request has been transfered to our office of compliance for investigation and is under investigation at this time," she said. "It is one of hundreds of complaints the agency receives each year."