Bass boomed from speakers on a raised stage, bouncing off nearby buildings.
Around the platform, kids shuffled to the ’90s R&B hit “My Boo.”
And next to the kids, cops broke out their best “Running Man” moves in what fast became a dance-off.
Out came the cellphones in exactly the kind of exchange police officials hoped for when they brought the Beat the Streets party to the Greenleaf neighborhood of Southwest Washington, one of 13 sites hosting the roving event this summer.
“It’s a vehicle to improve relations,” Officer Arthur Douglas said of the program that was in Greenleaf on Wednesday.
For nearly a decade, Beat the Streets has brought concerts, cookouts and a clutch of booths on health, education and safety issues to summer parties meant to strengthen ties between police and the residents they serve.
In Greenleaf, Netta King, 36, stood to the side with other adults, laughing as she cheered on the dance battle. She has attended the event in previous years and said it’s the perfect way to work toward a more peaceful community.
“More people come out, more things get done,” she said.
On a curved residential road, sandwiched between the recreation center and a public housing development, a few hundred residents passed through the festival from afternoon until early evening.
The scents of a cookout filled the air, as people lined up under a tent for hot dogs and burgers. Kids wandered between the stage area and the center’s playground, dancing and laughing with officers, while adults set up lawn chairs and mingled.
Douglas started Beat the Streets in 2007, and it has ballooned into an event communities clamor for, he said. In recent years, the festival has become part of the police department’s Summer Crime Prevention Initiative, which increases police presence in areas grappling with violent crime.
At each event, vendors pitch tents and distribute information on the various opportunities available to D.C. residents that can be hard to hear about and access in some parts of the city.
“We’re providing that pipeline that we should provide to D.C. residents,” said David Gaston, assistant director for outreach and engagement at the University of the District of Columbia.
Gaston, decked out in UDC apparel, was there to relay information on educational opportunities after high school. He has attended the events for years, and said bringing resources and contacts directly into a neighborhood provides easy access for the communities.
“Sometimes, by us not being there, they don’t get to have an active voice,” he said. “What they need is the information given to them in their comfort zone.”
Tomiko Shine, another vendor, gives away books written by African American authors to children at each event. Shine, who is from Baltimore but grew up in the District, said she wanted to be a part of efforts to promote peace and establish trust between police and residents, in the way she experienced it when she was in school.
“You knew who your officers were,” she said.
She said community outreach programs such as Beat the Streets are a positive start to strengthening ties in neighborhoods, but she wants to see a variety of resources go toward the effort.
From his lawn chair in Greenleaf, Quantay Oliver, a property manager of the nearby James Creek public housing, said he thought the festival was having a good impact.
“Just the services alone are a plus,” he said.
The event gave Terrell Battle, 25, a chance to spend extra time with his family, he said.
During the afternoon, he received cheers when he climbed onstage to perform a love song for his wife, with his infant daughter cradled in his arms.
“She goes everywhere with me,” he joked.
Battle said he wants to see change happen to stop violence throughout the city, and that the police program goes a long way toward shedding negative perceptions that officers and residents hold about each other.
“Law enforcement, they become one with the community,” he said. “They get to see we have a lot of people out here trying to make good of themselves.”
Becoming one with the community means a great deal to Douglas, who moved through the festival crowd, shaking hands and chatting, pleased with the turnout.
“For them to come out to our event pushes us a step in the right direction,” he said.