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Residents Voice Opposition to PSA Plan

Residents of Metropolitan Police Department’s First District, which comprises the Capitol Hill neighborhood, expressed displeasure bordering at times on outrage with a plan to consolidate the city’s 83 police service areas, during a Wednesday night meeting with District officials.

During the two-hour discussion attended by D.C. City Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) and MPD officials, residents used words like “ludicrous,” “garbage” and “bureaucratic B.S.” to express their near unanimity that enlarging the PSAs, by roughly cutting the current number in half, would do little to fix a system already rife with problems.

Presently, the First District encompasses 12 PSAs stretching from the Washington Monument in the west to RFK Stadium in the east and from New York Avenue in the north to just beyond Fort McNair in the south. Under MPD’s proposal, the area would be divided into six larger service areas.

“We should go back the other way to smaller neighborhoods, smaller areas,” said Peter Garcia of PSA 108.

“Little old ladies that were able to walk three blocks to the meetings came to the meetings,” he said, referring to the 138 beat areas MPD used to patrol the city prior to 1997. “Now they have to walk five or six [and] now you are going to propose a plan that makes them walk eight or nine. It’s not going to work.

“The question is, how do you justify this in the name of community policing?” asked Garcia, who concluded his comments to rousing applause from the audience.

“What we are proposing is not the only way. It is a way to start,” responded Nola Joyce, senior executive director of MPD’s Office of Organizational Development.

Attendees at PSA 108’s May meeting voted to reject the MPD’s PSA proposal, Garcia later noted.

MPD operates seven districts within the city, as well as three Regional Operations Commands and the PSAs, the department’s smallest divisions. The agency designed the service areas in an attempt to foster community involvement by assigning officers to specific neighborhoods.

Residents said the problems in the present PSA system are due in part to existing schisms within some PSAs, a factor that would only be exacerbated by the proposed expansion.

PSA 109 resident Robert Nevitt said that the service area’s eastern and western portions face very different problems — an assertion echoed by PSA 106 residents.

“If you are organizing according to tasks, types of crime, these east-west divisions don’t make any more sense now than they did before,” said Nevitt, who serves as president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society.

MPD’s primary consideration in creating the new PSAs is flexibility in scheduling, Joyce reiterated.

“What it will do is allow us to deploy [officers] in a larger way, in a greater mass, and that increases flexibility,” she said.

In recent weeks, a group called the Concerned Residents of Capitol Hill has circulated alternative maps for the area, which seek to reshape PSA boundaries along a north-south orientation, as well as eliminate the Constitution Avenue division proposed by the MPD.

Ambrose said she shares many of the residents’ concerns, asserting that the present PSA boundaries are already too broad and that questions remain as to how MPD will redistribute its resources.

“In Ward 6 along H Street, what were Fifth District PSAs will now be First District. Does that mean we are getting some Fifth District cruisers and personnel, et cetera? That’s not clear to me,” Ambrose said in an interview.

Ambrose also noted that some PSAs, such as 106, did not distinguish between commercial and residential areas — a fact she believes should be corrected.

The need for officers to deal with the increased criminal activity around the commercial areas, said Ambrose, “takes away from … responding to residential calls.”

Residents said the relationship between officers and the communities they serve needs to be strengthened.

Calling for the “stabilization” of the police force assigned to an area, Tracey Hooks of PSA 102 demanded, “We need the same officers to stay there.”

“The opposition so far in other districts is not as strong as here,” said Joyce, admitting that the MPD’s tentative time frames, which had proposed finalizing boundaries by the end of July, were unlikely to stand.

Comments from the meeting will be compiled and forwarded to District Commander Thomas McGuire and the assistant chief and will be considered in their recommendations to MPD Chief Charles Ramsey, Joyce said. The D.C. City Council must approve the final PSA plan.

“We want citizen input. We want to hear what you all have to say about these boundaries,” McGuire noted.

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