The recent brouhaha over the off-again, on-again "summer detail" of police assigned to Georgetown on weekend evenings has generated a great deal of heat (and little light) while serving to reinforce some extremely negative stereotypes about the Georgetown community and this city of which it is a part.
Underlying many of the sound bites and columnists' postmortems are the perceptions that the mayor reinstated a portion of the summer detail in response to the bleatings of unidentified monied interests and deep pockets (which, the stereotype holds, are the essence of Georgetown) to protect the property holdings of the (again unidentified) gentry.
Those are bum raps.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about the effort to restore the summer detail to Georgetown. At the risk of letting fact get in the way of emotion, consider the following:
The summer detail was created to ensure the safety of tourists and visitors -- 50,000 or more on some summer weekend evenings -- who flock to the intersection of Wisconsin Ave. and M Street in Georgetown and fan out through the small commercial district.
The possibility of the cancellation of the summer detail had been rumored for a number of months. During that time, the Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission sought assurances from the police and elected officials that the detail would survive the budget cuts pending in the D.C. Council and believed (mistakenly, as it turned out) that the detail would not be cut.
In the wake of the decision to cancel the summer detail, the ANC announced it was approaching the mayor directly to demand its restoration to ensure the safety of the weekend crowds -- the overwhelming majority of them visitors and tourists. That announcement -- and the attendant media coverage -- came on the afternoon of Monday, May 21. That evening, the mayor contacted Commissioner Ray Browne, who heads the Georgetown ANC's committee on public safety, to advise that he was looking into the matter.
On the following morning, Tuesday, the mayor phoned Commissioner Browne and advised that Chief Fulwood was restoring 25 of the 50 officers that make up the summer detail effective Memorial Day weekend.
On Saturday evening of Memorial Day weekend -- the second night of the presence of the abbreviated summer detail -- the mayor met with Browne, then conducted a walking tour of the Wisconsin Ave. and M Street area to observe conditions.
Thus in the span of six days, the elected leadership of a Washington community placed a problem of communitywide concern before the ultimate decision-maker -- the mayor -- and obtained a partial restoration of the summer detail. The ANC is continuing to press for full restoration.
This was not a circuitous, back-door route. The ANC Act specifically empowers ANCs to bring to the mayor's attention decisions of the District government affecting safety in the ANC's jurisdiction. And that's precisely what occurred.
Which leads to the debunking of another myth -- that the police are in Georgetown guarding homes and residences. The summer detail is in Georgetown to ensure the orderly movement and safety of the hordes of tourists and weekend visitors. What is the District's responsibility to a crowd of 50,000 in a confined space where alcohol flows freely? Think of Wisconsin and M as the summertime equivalent of a sold-out RFK on a Redskins Sunday, and the answer is clear: to ensure public safety.
Bear in mind that "Wisconsin and M" is not a natural phenomenon; it was created in the heart of a Washington neighborhood of 10,000, which is struggling to cope with this carnival in our midst.
Finally, the issue is not one of blacks and whites (though there is a lot of "sound bite" footage in raising that issue), but of numbers. As one observer aptly put it: "The problem is too many people in too small a space with too much booze and not enough police officers." Before you dismiss that as the self-serving parochial assessment of a Georgetown resident or merchant, consider the source: Police Chief Isaac Fulwood. He's dead right.
"Wisconsin and M" is not a Georgetown issue. It is a Washington, D.C., issue -- a fact that seems to have gotten overlooked in the media coverage of the past weeks -- Rory Quirk is chairman of the Georgetown ANC.