Within his first weeks as police inspector in charge of the Georgia Avenue area, D.C. Police Inspector Robin Hoey could tell his officers weren't doing the job because all but two business fronts had locked doors -- during daylight hours.
Robberies, heroin dealing and constant gun violence were among the daily hazards for residents of the Park Morton neighborhood and surrounding areas of Pleasant Plains and Columbia Heights.
"This was the place nobody wanted to come to," Hoey said in an interview.
But that was nearly two years ago. Since then, crime has declined along those same streets, and now Hoey has been promoted to a new command east of the Anacostia River. So on a bright and warm fall afternoon recently, residents grilled beef and veggie burgers as a small thank-you to Hoey for the effort he had put forth.
He was presented with a mirrored plaque by D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), a half-dozen advisory neighborhood commissioners and about two dozen residents.
The ceremony was small but memorable, much like the progress in reducing crime has been for those who have lived for decades in the area, with its entrenched drug culture. Park Morton is still not free of drugs or crime, but the contrast is striking, some residents said. A neighborhood thank-you party for a police officer would have been unimaginable a few years ago.
"He did a good job," said Dolia Edwards, a 32-year resident of Park Morton. "It's really calmed down a lot. It's a lot safer, it's a lot quieter."
Park Morton Citizens Association President Marie Whitfield said her neighbors feel safer these days along what has long been one of the city's notorious drug strips. The area was targeted earlier this year by city officials as one of 14 drug hot spots, which makes it a high priority for services.
Hoey, 45, joined the department 18 years ago and did tours in other violent and crime-ridden areas as both a patrol officer and a captain. He was promoted to command the substation at 750 Park Rd. NW after serving in the department's youth violence section.
"This gentleman became our inspector, and he made a difference," Graham said. "We liked what he did on Georgia Avenue."
What he did was take cops out of patrol cars and put them on foot and bicycle beats.
Hoey said that when he first arrived, "these jokers" would sell heroin in front of the Murry's Steaks store near the police station and in stores along that corridor. Hoey's objective was simple: "Georgia Avenue is hands-off."
"The issue was to make sure those cats keep moving," Hoey said.
His officers were told to check vacant houses each day, and residents were given a hotline number to the substation. Calls placed on the hotline were to get a response from a sergeant at the station, Hoey said.
At the thank-you ceremony, he told residents he was humbled by the praise, and he credited officers who worked under him for taking ownership of their beats.
Hoey and some residents readily acknowledge that much of the drug dealing simply has been displaced to other areas, but the relief has been noticeable, and residents wanted to honor their former leader.
"You're a people person," Whitfield said during the ceremony. "You listened. You understood."