[from December 2003 issue]


We commend to our readers attention the extremely comprehensive and detailed analysis of the proposed Police Service Area/”Neighborhood Clusters” linkage plan which this month’s contributor to our Community Forum space at page 4 has provided. [See below, following the editorial.]

If the final Police Service Area (PSA) boundaries are adopted in the fashion described then we are truly going to be faced with even a greater community to police communications failure than we now have in this city. The scheme to align the PSAs with so-called “neighborhood clusters” that disregard established ANC boundaries is foolhardy at best and bordering on criminal at worst. Our Forum correspondent’s analysis makes this abundantly clear in our view.

From all over the neighborhoods which this newspaper serves--and even from around the city--we have been receiving emails and copies of ANC and community organization resolutions that all have raised the same concerns as expressed in this Forum piece.

But many of these communications have gone even further in their statements as to what is so seriously wrong with the police department’s efforts to protect us from criminals who roam the streets. (And let’s not pretend that they are not out there roaming; all one has to do is go through the litany of brazen street crimes that we regularly post on our “Selected Street Crimes” page.)

There doesn’t seem to be a single resident in DC who has not figured out that we are being poorly served as a result of a decision made after 9/11 that significant numbers of MPD officers were going to be detailed to giving priority attention in the downtown (federal) areas of the city; there clearly are less officers in the neighborhoods. Everyone know it, including the city council members--several of whom railed against the chief’s odd priorities during public hearings; but their collective wisdom seems to have produced nothing more than a big pay raise for the chief of police.

Now we have the new development of Park Service police officers being detailed away from the city’s neighborhood parks which are under federal jurisdiction, adding to the even greater reduction of security for the residents. That decision was so egregious that it brought an immediate outcry from the Downtown Cluster of Congregations’ executive director, Terry Lynch, who fired off a memo to U.S. Interior Secretary Norton in which he wrote, among other things, the following:

"With the gang violence that is terrorizing areas adjacent to park properties, the ongoing number of homicides and drug-related activities, this is no time to sell short the parks of this city. We need to both provide adequate protection for our national monuments, and the neighborhood-related areas under the jurisdiction of the Park Police."

We agree with that statement 100 percent. But that message could just as well be directed to Chief Ramsey, given his penchant for detailing officers out of the neighborhoods to work the federal areas. We do not believe that DCF taxpayers should be shouldering that burden at the expense of not only our tax dollars but also of our safety close to home.

So, what we have now is not only substantially less police presence in the neighborhoods (we constantly hear residents complaining that they never see MPD officers actually on the streets), but we also discern an awareness by the very bad people that there are in fact almost no police around who might stop them. The result appears to be significantly more violent muggings even in areas that were once virtually immune from such things.

For the most part, the PSA system does not seem to have resulted in more visible police presence on the streets. But the mere act of increasing the size of the PSAs and disengaging them from the core neighborhood entities created by the ANC system clearly is a misguided bureaucratic move in the wrong direction--seemingly the brainchild of recently-arrived hot-shot bureaucrats from out-of-state who see their jobs to be municipal experimenters. This is one of the sad truths about this city: all sorts of people flock here from far away and act like they know what’s best for us. And, as this business with the PSAs and the ANCs clearly has shown, those bureaucrats have little or no interest in hearing from the very citizens who will be affected--so little regard for our opinions, in fact, that they blithely ignore the legal requirements of public notice and comment, another aspect that our Forum contributor has so accurately described.



By Lars Hydle

The writer, a DC resident since 1962, is a retired Foreign Service Officer and former Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for Cathedral Heights.

In 1997 the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) created 83 Police Service Areas (PSAs) to improve cooperation between the police and people in the neighborhoods. Each PSA has a similar staffing pattern and workload or crime rate, and their boundaries are generally drawn without regard to existing neighborhood government boundaries. The Council has asked the MPD to review the PSAs, and in May Chief Ramsey unveiled a PSA restructuring plan that would reduce the number of PSAs to 39, vary their staffing according to their workload (I agree with these things) and align their boundaries with "neighborhood clusters, as defined by the Office of Planning."

The Office of Planning created the 39 "clusters" in January 2000 at a follow-up to the first Citizens Summit. It drew the "cluster" boundaries without regard to those of the existing 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs), and never notified the ANCs about its "clusters," as required by DC law on the ANCs, nor submitted the "clusters" or their boundaries to the Council, which is empowered by the Home Rule Charter to "create, abolish, and organize" government departments, agencies, and other entities.

Subsequently, the Office of Planning sought to uplift the "clusters" at the expense of ANCs and neighborhood democracy. It convened "cluster" meetings to create "Strategic Neighborhood Action Plans" (SNAPS) which were supposed to be taken into account in the Mayor's budgets. Once again the SNAPS were not forwarded to the ANCs, which are legally empowered to give advice on "planning" and "budget," as well as "safety".

The Office of Planning's advice to the MPD to align their PSAs with "clusters" fits in with this anti-democratic strategy. There is no room for ANCs in the future "visioned" by the Office of Planning, which recently issued a report on focusing growth on 10 District neighborhoods, in which the words "Advisory Neighborhood Commission" and "ANC" do not appear.

ANCs were inspired by the District's rich tradition of neighborhood citizens and civic associations. In May 1974 when District voters ratified our current Home Rule Charter, they voted separately, 70 percent to 30 percent, to approve ANCs in principle. The Mayor and Council have often legislated on the powers, duties and responsibilities of ANCs, and in 2000 they enhanced the "great weight" that government departments are required to give to ANC resolutions. In 2001 the Mayor and Council passed the ANC/Single-Member District (SMD) Redistricting Act, based on recommendations from ward task forces composed of hundreds of residents, superseding the January 2000 "cluster" exercise. ANCs are regulated by the Board of Elections and Ethics and the DC Auditor. Every DC voter's registration card identifies the voter's ANC and SMD, and last November more than 95,000 voted for an ANC candidate. ANCs are grass-roots, "clusters" are artificial turf; ANCs are democratic, "clusters" bureaucratic; ANCs are legitimate, "clusters" not.

The MPD's PSA restructuring plan, somewhat changed since May, now provides for 43 PSAs, no longer closely aligned with "clusters" but still said to be based on them. Thirty-two of these are divided into two or more ANCs, which means that their PSA commander could receive conflicting resolutions, each entitled to "great weight," from those ANCs about the deployment of police officers. On the other hand, 28 ANCs are divided into two or more PSAs, hampering their ability to establish a coherent anti-crime strategy and advice to PSAs. In all, the 43 PSAs and 37 ANCs are divided into a crazy-quilt of 102 ANC/PSA parts. One wonders why the MPD would deliberately create such administrative chaos.

It would be far better if each ANC had its own PSA and vice-versa. The residents would understand clearly who was responsible for their policing, and for advice on policing; the PSA commander would be accountable to only one ANC; the ANC could offer coherent advice on safety issues; the PSA and the ANC could work together, not just on policing itself, but on government programs that affect safety--burned-out street lights, after-school programs, etc. Under the current MPD plan there are only three ANCs that are identical to their PSAs--ANC 1C/PSA 303 in Adams Morgan-Lanier Heights, ANC 1D/PSA 301 in Mt. Pleasant, and ANC 3G/PSA 201 in Chevy Chase-Hawthorne-Barnaby Woods. The MPD has consulted widely about its PSA restructuring plan, on its website and in meetings of its own District Citizens Advisory Committees and PSAs. But it has not notified the ANCs of its plan as required by DC law.

As of December 5, 2003, 16 ANCs, including all four Ward 1 ANCs and ANCs 2A, 2B, and 2F in Ward 2, have on their own initiative passed resolutions which, with local variations, call on the MPD to draw PSA boundaries without regard to "clusters" and align them with ANCs except when affected ANCs agree otherwise; and to notify ANCs of their PSA plans and give "great weight" to their resolutions, before submitting the plan to the Council for a 60-day review. The MPD's response to these ANC resolutions has been spotty; they have agreed with some and ignored others, not bothering to explain why, contrary to their "great weight" obligation.

Some ANCs, while generally supporting the ANC/PSA link, believe that there may better PSA boundaries than their own in their area, because of practical policing problems such as ease of access or keeping a crime hot spot in a single PSA, or to keep a neighborhood together.

Among other organizations supporting the ANC/PSA link are the ANC Assembly and the Federation of Citizens Associations of DC, as well as several neighborhood associations, including the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Association; also supportive is the General Assembly of the DC Statehood-Green Party.

In Ward 1--divided into four ANCs and five PSAs all in the Third Police District--the picture is better than citywide. In addition to the identical ANC 1C/PSA 303 and ANC 1D/PSA 301 mentioned above, ANC 1A in Columbia Heights is virtually identical to proposed PSA 302, except that 302 extends into the small, uninhabited triangle east of Park Place between Irving and Kenyon, which is in Ward 5's ANC 5C. And, between Sherman Avenue and Park Place, the ANC 1A-1B (U Street) boundary is Columbia Road but the PSA 302-304 boundary is Harvard Street to Georgia Avenue and Gresham Place to 4th Street.

The main Ward 1 problem is that ANC 1B, contrary to its ANC/PSA resolution, is divided into PSAs 304 and 305 by Florida Avenue, Perry Place, and Georgia Avenue. If either PSA commander needed reinforcement at a particular crime hot spot he or she would have to go to the District commander rather than the adjacent PSA commander. But if there were only one PSA in this rather small geographic area, that commander could more rapidly re-deploy his or her own officers.

In Ward 2, divided into six ANCs and six proposed PSAs from three Police Districts, the picture is mixed. In Georgetown, ANC 2E is very similar to PSA 206. In central Ward 2, PSA 306 includes all of ANC 2B (Dupont Circle, which has called for the ANC/PSA link), and 2D (Sheridan-Kalorama, which has expressed no view on whether it should have a separate PSA). If ANC 2D and its residents believe they still need a separate ANC with only two Single-Member Districts, I think they should also push for a separate PSA; but it's their call.

PSA 306 also includes a residential/commercial area bordered by N Street, 20th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and 23rd Street, which is part of ANC 2A (West End-Foggy Bottom) and which has also passed an ANC/PSA resolution. Proposed PSA 104 is mostly in Ward 6's ANC 6D, but also covers the Mall, the Capitol, and other federal areas which are not part of any "cluster"; it includes parts of ANCs 2A, 2C, 2F, 6B and 6C.

On the east side of Ward 2, proposed PSA 307 cuts across ANCs 2F (Logan Circle) and 2C (Shaw) between 15th Street and New Jersey Avenue and between S and Massachusetts and New York Avenues; and PSA 101 to the south cuts across those ANCs and all the way to North Capital Street into ANC 6C. ANC 2F has passed an ANC/PSA resolution, but so far not reflected in the MPD's plan.

MPD officials are saying they have virtually completed listening to community comments. They are also briefing individual Council members, and will seek the Mayor's approval before submitting it to the Council for review. The Council has said it would hold hearings during the 60-day review.

ANCs, neighborhood associations, and individuals who share my concern about a "cluster"-based, ANC-"dissing" PSA restructuring plan should pass resolutions and lobby the MPD and the Williams Administration and their Council members. The MPD and the executive branch should draw PSA boundaries without regard to "clusters" and align them with ANCs unless affected ANCs agree otherwise. The MPD, our most prominent law enforcement department, should follow the law by notifying ANCs and giving "great weight" to their resolutions on this matter before submitting its plan to the Council. In Wards 1 and 2 this means resolutions by ANCs 1B, 2A and 2F. The Council should ensure that these requirements are fulfilled.