A recent spate of violence in the Columbia Heights neighborhood brought together several community members last week to press the D.C. police department to step up its presence in the neighborhood in a more proactive way.

About 40 community members spoke about problems, especially violent crime, at the meeting in the 2900 block of 14th Street NW. The meeting was arranged by D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

Assistant Chief William McManus and 3rd District Cmdr. Mark Beach, after giving brief speeches, fielded questions about the police department's plan to take a new approach to fighting crime in the neighborhood. Police plan to be more aggressive and have more presence in the area.

His remarks were greeted with skepticism.

To many citizens, Beach's comments sounded too familiar. They said that last week's meeting was just more beating about the bush, with more police rhetoric.

"Every time I hear about a new initiative, I get really, really frustrated, because I know nothing is going to happen," one woman said to the group.

Others whispered to themselves as McManus spoke. "He should be a politician," another woman said.

Many residents, most of whom did not want to be identified because they fear for their safety, spoke about rampant and flagrant criminal activity, such as shootings, open-air drug markets and prostitution.

"We're going to attack the violent crime in this city from a lot of different angles," McManus said. "We're taking a much more aggressive stance on crime this year."

Much of the crime has occurred around the 1300 block of Fairmont Street, which police have labeled a "hot spot" for crime. That area was the scene of the Jan. 2 shooting death of 19-year-old Leslie Tate, in what police now say was retaliation after a bar fight, not gang-related, as reported initially.

"This incident began as an overflow from U Street," where there are a number of nightspots, McManus said. "There's not a running gun battle between rival gangs here."

Although McManus reiterated Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey's commitment to reduce homicides this year by 50 percent, many members of the audience levied criticism against current police practices.

"We called the police [after the most recent shooting] and told them what we were seeing," one man said. "But then we see the police just driving by the people we were calling about."

Beach was named head of the 3rd District on Jan. 10 after the resignation of Charles E. Swopes, who had held the post only five days before leaving the department to join the U.S. Mint police. Beach acknowledged the need for accountability in the 3rd District and asked that the community work with the police to make a difference.

"I think a lot of times, we are a little bit short, and we need to change that," Beach said.

Staff writer Arthur Santana contributed to this report.