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Residents Question New Policing Proposal

Capitol Hill residents voiced skepticism Tuesday about a Metropolitan Police Department proposal to alter its community policing program, questioning whether a new program would actually improve law enforcement and keep police officers assigned to neighborhood streets.

The law-enforcement agency, under direction of the D.C. City Council, is in the first stages of redesigning its 83 Police Service Areas.

“It’s time to step back and ask some questions about the system,” Nola Joyce, senior executive director of MPD’s Office of Organizational Development, told residents gathered at the First District Headquarters for the last in a series of preliminary public meetings about the proposal.

MPD would create a new community policing program based on the 39 “neighborhood clusters” designated by the D.C. Office of Planning.

“We think the community clusters, because they’re based on the community boundaries, would create better PSA boundaries,” Joyce said.

Currently, MPD operates seven districts within the city, as well as three Regional Operations Commands and the PSAs. The First District, which encompasses Capitol Hill and surrounding neighborhoods, is divided into 12 PSAs.

The PSAs, which replaced the 138 beat areas used by MPD to patrol the city before 1997, were designed to foster community involvement with officers assigned to specific neighborhoods.

A major factor in expanding the PSAs to larger areas is the need to provide more flexibility in how officers are assigned and able to respond to calls, explained Amy Mauro, an aide to Councilwoman Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3).

There are now 1,585 officers assigned to the service areas, and MPD is seeking to expand that to 1,769 officers, in addition to lieutenants, sergeants and other staff.

“If a lieutenant’s roster doubles, he or she has that many more officers to work with,” Mauro said, and later added, “Your workload is not going to double if the size of the PSA doubles.”

But local residents questioned whether a change in boundaries could correct what they see as ongoing problems, such as the loss of neighborhood patrols when officers are needed to monitor large-scale protests in other areas of the District.

“The same problem you have with the PSA now, you’ll have with any organization,” said Irv Gamza, a member of the First District Citizens Advisory Council.

Residents raised concerns that larger PSAs would require some neighborhoods to compete with downtown areas like Chinatown or the new Convention Center for police attention.

“We’re going to get lost, totally lost,” said Sheila White, who lives in PSA 103.

In the new design, Capitol Hill would be included in Cluster 26, along with Barney Circle, Hill East, Lincoln Park and Stadium Armory neighborhoods. The Near Southeast, Arthur Capper, Carrollsburg and Navy Yard comprise Cluster 27, and Kingman Park, Linden, Near Northeast, North Lincoln Park, Rosedale and Stanton Park comprise Cluster 25.

First District CAC Chairman Will Hill also questioned the proposal to expand the PSAs, noting that several of the current service areas are divided into east and west divisions because the areas have vastly different priorities, ranging from petty theft to drug enforcement.

“You’re going to make it even larger? You’re going to have people fighting amongst themselves,” Hill said.

Commentary from meetings held in each of the seven police districts will be reviewed Saturday during D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams’ (D) Crime Forum II at Scripture Cathedral, 810 O St. NW.

MPD officials will host a second series of meetings with the Citizens Advisory Councils in either late May or June to review plans for the new boundaries.

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