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Amid call for traffic safety measures, Bowser will increase police presence at some D.C. schools

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and Police Chief Robert J. Contee III speak to students outside Van Ness Elementary School on Nov. 29. Officials announced new traffic safety patrols around schools at a news conference outside the school. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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D.C. police will increase traffic safety patrols around certain schools in the city, so that they can stop drivers who speed or run red lights or stop signs near school buildings, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Monday.

Residents have clamored for the city to take action on roadway safety, following several collisions that injured pedestrians and bicyclists, including a 5-year-old killed in a crosswalk, a 4-year-old hit by an SUV and a parent and two children hit while walking to school. Advocates and parents have asked for infrastructure improvements like speed bumps and electronic signs and for a faster process for alerting the city when a certain intersection or road needs safety improvements.

Bowser’s latest answer to these demands was to announce that officers in each police district of the city will increase their patrols at schools.

“We focus every day and night and all day in between on making sure D.C. residents are safe,” she said. “Multiple agencies in D.C. government are working around-the-clock to make sure our streets are safer. … These cars are thousands of pounds. When they get moving, they’re deadly weapons. So we have to treat them like that.”

Bowser gave police carte blanche to spend as much money as needed on overtime during a spike in crime several months ago, and Chief Robert J. Contee III said on Monday that he would use that overtime to cover the increased traffic patrols.

Asked about whether drivers should worry about being stopped by police because of these new patrols, Bowser said, “Increased enforcement means more people will get stopped, and the people who will get stopped are the people who aren’t following the rules. … That does mean there will be increased interactions with the police.”

She asked drivers to take responsibility. “Stop speeding on our streets. Stop running red lights on our streets,” she said. “People are very critical of the government, but we also have to look at ourselves who are drivers.”

At some schools, the District will also use electronic signs to tell drivers to slow down. When Bowser made her announcement at Van Ness Elementary in Navy Yard, a board behind her flashed messages like “Children Present” and “School Zone.”

Contee said that the school resource officers already assigned to school buildings will distribute fliers to drivers urging them to drive slowly near schools. He described the strategy as “intermittent enforcement” and said the officers might target different schools over time based on “crash data.”

“The areas today could change next week,” he said.