Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Another Hit on Community Policing

Just when I think MPD is moving in the right direction with more foot and bike patrols, up comes another instance where it is giving lip service to community policing, the idea that if police officers and residents get to know each other and work together, they can be more effective in combating crime. The latest hit is the transfer of Lt. Phil Lanciano, who led the Police Service Area (PSA 207) that includes Foggy Bottom and the south western portion of Dupont Circle.

I don't personally know Lt. Lanciano, but during my campaign for Ward 2 on the DC Council, I repeatedly came across residents who sung his praises. By all accounts, including The Examiner article today, he was a model police officer who had come to know his community over many years and earned their trust and respect. Now, he's being moved for unexplained reasons, to the other side of the city.

I've seen this all too many times before. In some instances, excellent officers are reassigned because there is someone out to get them. Case in point: MPD was under pressure for years to assign Lt. Michael Smith who is a hero in Logan Circle because a certain individual with a vendetta filed numerous complaints against him. Ultimately, when the PSA was split in two between Shaw and Logan Circle, Lt. Smith found himself on the Logan Circle side rather than in the Shaw side where he lives (congrats to Lt. Smith who is retiring and moving to Florida this month and THANK YOU for all your hard work! Read about Lt. Smith in this 2003 Washington CityPaper cover story).

In other instances, I've seen some of the best officers promoted from Ward 2 to other areas of the city. I've been told by one MPD Third District commander that this is (or was) a matter of police policy. According to that official, MPD prefers that those who are promoted be reassigned so that they do not supervise their ex-colleagues and so that they learn about another area of the city. While I can understand this reasoning, the entire concept of community policing is thrown under the bus when effective officers are reassigned from an area in which they have, over many years, come to know the criminals, the suspects, the residents and activists, the community groups and churchs, the illegal activity, and the places to hide. In each case, the community mobilizes to fight the transfer, with mixed success. Will Foggy Bottom get to keep its Lieutenant? I hope so.

Slightly off the topic, but there's more MPD and the DC Council can do to strengthen community policing. It's time to redraw some of our PSA boundaries so that they actually fit the neighborhoods that they are intended to serve. The greatest example downtown area is PSA 101. This PSA covers everything from Capital Hill to the White House below New York Avenue. The PSA even pops up to N Street in the Mount Vernon Square area between 1st and 4th Streets NW, apparently due to a gerrymandered Ward 2/6 line. That makes what is known as the "chimney area" easy to forget on patrols, as it is an island across New York Avenue. But the greatest issue is that Chinatown/Penn Quarter does not have its own PSA. While administratively, MPD has in some ways split the PSA between an east and west side, the area still shares officers and leadership with a vast area. That needs to change.

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