LONGTIME park officials recall when Hains Point was so popular it was sometimes filled to capacity as early as 10 in the morning. In their minds, it is still Washington's favorite park, not only for tourists and fishermen but also for poor people who cannot afford trips to the beach. That is why the drug problem at Hains Point deserves a better solution than cutting off vehicular traffic at night.
A small group of U.S. Park Police officers made arrests in 215 drug cases at the Point last year. This year, the number of drug cases stands at 255 already. The police are now, sporadically, closing the 327-acre park to cars at night, which they say has helped curtail drug use and sales. Currently, there is a proposal to close the park to cars at 9 every night. Aren't there other solutions to this problem?
At the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, officials increased the amount of lighting in the park. They worked to create "line of sight" vision for patrolmen in cars by removing shrubbery and other barriers that might conceal criminal activities. They increased the number of police patrols. In some parts, they restricted parking. Similar solutions were used here to deal with the area around the Iwo Jima Memorial after a murder occurred there. These measures have been successful, and none of them involved keeping cars and other motor vehicles out of the park at night.
Part of the problem is one of resources. There are about 420 U.S. Park Police officers here. Their patrol area is enormous, encompassing several parks, parts of downtown Washington, and roads such as the George Washington and Baltimore-Washington parkways. Park Service officials say that from 480 to 580 uniformed officers are needed.
The "no car" plan may have another potential drawback. It would allow bicyclists and pedestrians to continue to use the park past 9 p.m. But who is more likely to be a crime victim, someone on foot or someone in his car? The two people who were recently shot at Hains Point were on foot; it was a night when cars were barred from the park.
Efforts could be made to create family oriented events and activities at night. That might curtail the attractiveness of Hains Point to drug dealers and users. Some have suggested that the District government take on some role to help stop the problem. Another solution might be to close the park to cars, but at a later hour. A drive along Hains Point at night can still be a pleasure. If this must end, it should only come as a last resort.