Hill Residents Speak Out About Crime

Posted November 19, 2004 at 4:42pm

Members of the Capitol Hill community expressed their outrage at the spike in crime in the neighborhood’s Police Service Area 102 at a meeting last Thursday.

A PSA is “the smallest geographical subdivision of the city,” but PSA 102 in the 1st district is seeing a fairly large amount of crime occurring within its boundaries.

“We’re up to like 135 burglaries in the last 90 days,” said Metropolitan Police Department 1st district Commander Thomas McGuire on Thursday night at the PSA 102 community meeting. “I try to deploy units to areas that have had a higher crime pattern.”

It’s not hard to see that crime patterns are most abundant in PSA 102 — which roughly includes the area east of Second Street and the Union Station railyards to Benning Road Northeast to Maryland Avenue Northeast to A Street Southeast — when comparing statistics between PSA 102 and the six other PSAs in the 1st district. In PSA 102 in the past 90 days, burglaries are up 216 percent, car theft is up 12 percent and theft is up 39 percent.

MPD Officer David Adams is working specifically on the burglaries occurring in the area, which is one of the biggest problems. Most burglaries are residential and occur during the day when the majority of residents are at work. He told those at the meeting that about 80 percent of the burglary cases involve “small stuff” being stolen.

“They’re spending three to five minutes in the house and then they’re out,” Adams said. “I worked a house on K Street [Northeast] that had two nice flat-screen TVs, and the guy took a 12-inch TV, change and jewelry.”

McGuire said he often asks himself, “What’s fueling this?” He said normally crimes in the area are not committed by a large organized burglary ring; rather, it is usually local drug addicts who “steal to survive.”

All 13 people arrested in PSA 102 this year have been older than 35, and every single one is believed to be a heroin addict, McGuire said. While he said the number of arrests put PSA 102 “ahead of the curve” on locking up offenders in the 1st district, community members expressed outrage concerning the drug problem in their neighborhood.

Officers said Seventh and H streets Northeast is probably “the biggest market,” meaning that is where drug addicts go to buy their next fix.

“You’ll probably see 60 or 70 people come through, strike a match, light a cigarette, shake hands — that’s a drug transaction,” said PSA 102 Lt. Edward Butler.

Community members at the meeting wanted to know why punishment for drug users is so lenient. For example, someone has to be caught with 20 or more crack rocks to be charged with possession with intent to distribute, McGuire said. But someone charged with simple possession could be caught 20 to 30 times and keep going free.

“We have too many people in the judicial system; too many people locked up,” said At-Large City Council member Phil Mendelson. “That’s why lesser crimes don’t have such harsh punishments, we don’t have the capacity to hold all these people.”

However, in an attempt to prevent loitering and drug deals happening in vacant properties in the area, MPD officers have arrested 10 people in the past three days for “illegal presence.”

McGuire said MPD is working with Capitol Police, Park Police, Amtrak, the fire department and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency to exchange information and discuss crime trends in the area.

While Butler said the MPD is doing what it can to protect the neighborhood, officers said those in the community need to be aware of what is going on around them. Being knowledgeable of neighbors is just one step toward a safer community.

“An alarm isn’t an end-all, be-all,” Butler said. “You have to figure out what’s going to work for your situation.”

The community meeting allowed MPD officers an opportunity to let those living in the area know what the MPD is doing to prevent the number of crimes occurring in the neighborhood, but not all community members seemed satisfied.

“3-1-1 is too slow,” said one community member, referring to how he called the number when he witnessed a heated argument about drugs in his back ally. “I waited, waited and waited, and the dispatch never got it.”

Not all members had complaints of police response time though, as one local said he’s needed the assistance of 3-1-1 twice before, and both times the officers have responded quickly. He told his neighbors that the PSA has an “inordinate number of resources” and that the officers are “probably not going to throw any more resources our way.”

“There’s nothing else to throw,” responded Butler. “You have a boatload of officers — I’m surprised none of you have had an accident with one of them driving down the street.”

A community survey was handed out by MPD at the meeting in an attempt to get feedback and suggestions for what else the department can do to keep the neighborhood safe. Also, some community members said they plan to use a PSA 102 e-mail listserv more often to distribute information from MPD officers, in addition to safety tips community members might find helpful.

Officers recently caught a burglar nicknamed “Country,” an alleged heroin addict who confessed to at least 45 burglaries in PSA 102, although McGuire said he assumes Country is responsible for more than that. The first time Country was caught, the judge put him in a halfway house, and he “walked in the front door and walked right out the back door,” McGuire said. Two to three weeks later, officers caught him coming out a back window of a house, and now he is finally behind bars.

Still, attendees said they want stricter rules and less crime in their neighborhood.

“Take a bucket and pour muddy water into it,” Butler said. “All the heavy dirt goes to the bottom and everything else swims and floats around and comes back out. That’s the criminal justice system in a nutshell — you end up with a muddy bucket.”