Do you folks have any idea how many police departments can issue traffic and parking tickets in the District of Columbia? I didn't. The answer is kind of stupefying. At least 20 police agencies, including National Zoo police and U.S. Park Police visitor aides, may write parking tickets, and 11 departments may write moving violations in the city.
How would you like to get nailed by the D.C. library police? Or the St. Elizabeths Hospital security force? Or the Fort McNair police?
Perhaps more confounding might be a moving violation from the zoo police, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center police or the D.C. Housing Authority police.
The subject arises because of a disturbing story from a Suitland reader who understandably had trouble sorting out the authority of one of these city police forces:
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am writing you because I don't know who else to turn to. On Sept. 22, I was driving down East Capitol Street when a District of Columbia Housing Authority policeman pulled up beside my car and told me it was against the law to travel 60 mph on a District street. I told him that I wasn't going at that speed.
I pulled away and looked in my rearview mirror, and there he was with his overhead lights flashing.
[A sergeant] approached and asked for my license and registration. I said I was not aware that he had the authority to pull me over unless I was on DCHA property.
Well, the sergeant tells me that he's a federal officer and he can pull me over and he's not going to argue, and that I can take it to court.
I informed him I would take it to court and requested that a D.C. police officer come to the scene. I wanted to verify that this DCHA policeman had the authority to pull me over. [Because] several cases of police impersonators [occur], I also wanted to have another person of authority present.
[The sergeant] informed me that if he had to call a second officer to the scene, he was going to lock me up.
[The sergeant] called for backup and told the D.C. policeman that I refused to present my permit. The officer passed my license and registration to [the sergeant], and he said it was too late. "I told you if I called another officer to the scene, I was going to arrest you," he said.
Here I am pleading for him not to arrest me, with my 8-year-old daughter in the car, crying.
I am handcuffed and put in a squad car and taken to the 4th District police station on Bladensburg Road NE. The entire trip, I'm begging the officer to loosen my handcuffs because [the sergeant] put them on upside down, and I was in pain.
When I got to the precinct, it takes two officers to force the handcuffs off my arms. Then [the sergeant] comes in and tells me that I should have done like he told me and this wouldn't have happened. He said I upset my child for no reason.
I refused to speak to the officer or to sign anything but my release papers.
I'm a law-abiding citizen with government security clearances. I am very hurt that I was treated like a common criminal. Every time I think of what happened, I cry.
Please tell me what I can do. I feel so violated.
SAMANTHA W. MORRIS
First, let's see whether the DCHA police were within their rights to pull you over. Apparently they were. These police, astonishingly, have full police powers across the city. They were granted those powers by the D.C. Council last year.
Now they are like a second D.C. police force. The Housing Authority's cadets go through the Metropolitan Police Department training academy. Its officers share the same radio frequency with metro police and respond as backup units to any crime. They wear navy blue uniforms with pistols and gold badges, and they drive marked police cars with overhead light bars.
Having said that, I also believe that no one in the Western world outside our law enforcement community knows that the D.C. Housing Authority can make a traffic stop anywhere in the city. Authority squad cars are labeled, "D.C. Housing Authority," and any rational person would believe that is where they belong, on DCHA property. I would have been just as suspicious as you, Ms. Morris.
Second, to be hauled away in handcuffs when you question the situation seems to me to be outrageous police work. You're not trying to flee, and you're not assaulting anyone. Why the arrest?
I'd challenge your two tickets, speeding and failure to show registration. (Ms. Morris says she has a court date in April.)
Next, I'd go to D.C. Housing Authority headquarters, at 1133 N. Capitol St. NE, and file a complaint with its police. Get this on the record so if similar complaints are filed, action might be taken. As of this writing, the authority's police have not heard from you.
Next, I'd consult a lawyer. Sounds like you are owed some justice.
I forwarded your letter to DCHA Police Chief Madison Jenkins. He said that he assigned two lieutenants to conduct an investigation. He reported that they found no wrongdoing.
"Here you had a uniformed officer, in a marked car, with light bar--I mean it would have been so easy to give him the registration," Jenkins said.
And when she didn't, was it proper to arrest her?
"Yes," Jenkins said. "He told her what he was going to do if she failed to show her license and registration. As far as he knew, she didn't have a permit." Jenkins also said that the woman did not present her license and registration until she reached the police station.
Have other people questioned the authority of your officers?
"No, not really."
I have to say that Jenkins was extremely patient in responding to these allegations and going over the various laws that empower his force.
What follows is a who's who of citywide police authorities and what they can do. This is from D.C. municipal regulations, Title 18, Section 3002.1. (Italics, for emphasis, are added).
PARKING VIOLATIONS ONLY
The following are empowered to issue notices of infractions for parking violations within their respective jurisdictions:
* D.C. Protective Service
* D.C. Department of Human Services at D.C. General Hospital
* D.C. Department of Public Works
* Library of Congress
* St. Elizabeths Hospital security force
* U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
* U.S. Federal Protective Service
* U.S. Government Printing Office
* U.S. Park Police visitor aides
* University of the District of Columbia security police
* Walter Reed Army Medical Center
* Commandant, Naval District, Washington
* Fort McNair police
* D.C. Public Library
* U.S. Department of Commerce special agents
* U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency
* U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Security Protective Services
* D.C. Superior Court security police
* U.S. Supreme Court police
* D.C. Housing Authority special police
MOVING AND NON-MOVING VIOLATIONS
From the D.C. municipal regulations, Title 18, Section 3003.1:
The following are empowered to issue notices of infractions for all moving and parking infractions within their respective jurisdictions:
* D.C. police
* Metro transit police
* National Zoo police
* U.S. Capitol Police
* U.S. Park Police
* U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division
* Walter Reed Army Medical Center
* Bolling Air Force Base security police
* Federal Protective Service
* Commandant, Naval District, Washington
* D.C. Housing Authority police
According to Jenkins, the DCHA police received the authority to issue citations for moving and non-moving violations anywhere in the city as a result of a D.C. City Council action last year. D.C. Act 12-592 reads, in part:
"The jurisdiction of the DCHAPD shall be concurrent with that of the Metropolitan Police Department and coextensive with the territorial boundaries of the District of Columbia."
Whew. I'm policed out. Do we really need dozens of police departments? Have any of you been confused about their traffic authority?
Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.
Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Wednesday in Prince William Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.