Walk With a Purpose

Hill Dog Owners Walk to Help Fight Crime

Posted January 7, 2005 at 2:50pm

Despite Wednesday night’s chilly temperature, approximately 15 residents of D.C.’s Police Service Area 102 in the 1st district gathered to kick off the new year with a new activity: an organized monthly dog walk.

“We’re getting two things done at once here,” said Melissa Marcello, who initiated the group walk. The two tasks being crossed off some residents’ to-do lists? Walking the dog and bringing a neighborly presence to the area, which leads the six other PSAs in the district in crime.

“One of the group’s goals is to make the neighborhood safer,” Marcello added. “When we moved to the neighborhood, we would walk Sasha and meet so many new people. Once we started talking to others, we realized we’re not alone — a lot of people have the same concerns for the neighborhood we do.”

At a PSA 102 meeting in late November, Metropolitan Police Department officers discussed precautions residents could take to try to avoid certain crimes. One suggestion was to call 311 to report suspicious behavior, but many residents, including ANC Commissioner Michael Sherman, say they are upset at the lack of response from the call center.

Other advice given was more crime-specific. In terms of auto theft, MPD Lt. Edward Butler said he activates the alarm and puts the Club on his Toyota, even if he’s just running inside for a moment. And when it comes to burglaries, one of the area’s biggest problems, MPD officers said owning a dog sometimes can be a better deterrent than an alarm system.

Officers also pointed out that it takes about 10 seconds for burglars to scale a backyard fence, but if they see or hear a dog, it might be enough to force them elsewhere.

Noting that the majority of dogs along for the walk were large, one resident replied, “The neighborhood necessitates large dogs.”

The dog walking group met at the corner of Seventh and G streets Northeast, in front of Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School. That area is just one block away from the H Street intersection that MPD refers to as “the biggest market,” meaning many drug deals happen there. Also, a parking lot across the street from the school was a popular spot for prostitutes until about eight months ago, when community members got a fence put up around the lot’s perimeter. The school janitor locks the gate to the lot at night before going home.

However, one gate that is not getting locked is the one to the playground behind the school. As the group walked along the fence sporting a handful of signs reading “No Dogs,” many residents expressed disappointment when they saw the gate was not locked. At the end of the walk, Sherman and his cocker spaniel, Lady, joined the group in front of the school. He said he would again meet with the principal, who previously agreed that the gate would be locked starting Jan. 1.

One recent success story for the area is the forced sale of 707 Seventh St. NE. The house was a “crack house with a meth lab inside and mattresses in every room,” said a G Street Northeast resident, who played a part in the forced sale and asked not to be named. Slowly but surely, residents said they feel their efforts are helping change the neighborhood, which is still recovering from the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, for the better.

While the MPD is working with Capitol Police, Park Police, the fire department and Amtrak, among others, crime in the area — and how to deter it — is a frequent topic of discussion among neighbors. One method that has been in place for a while is the Orange Hats, a group of community members who walk through specific areas of the neighborhood a couple days per week in an attempt to counteract possible crimes.

“There are different perspectives on how to make a presence known as neighbors,” Marcello said when talking about the Orange Hats and the now-monthly dog walks. “With the dogs, we don’t need the police involved.”

However, to be a dog owner or not to be a dog owner makes no difference to those in the northeast section of Capitol Hill because one of the reasons behind the group dog walk is interaction with neighbors. A number of conversations were going on at any given time during the inaugural walk, with topics ranging from what dog diets work to the high cost of living in the District — in fact, one resident said she and her husband joke that they could “own a ZIP code” for as much as they pay for their house.

“There’s a real sense of community here,” said another Northeast resident, who has been in the area for about six months. So far, he is enjoying the camaraderie with other residents in the area, something he said didn’t exist when he lived in Dupont Circle.

Those living in the Northeast area within PSA 102 are welcome to join the group each month for the walk, with or without a dog. For more information, ask a neighbor or subscribe to the PSA 102 listserv to keep up-to-date on area happenings by sending an e-mail to psa102@toward.com.