In early February, city officials designated a large chunk of the Adams Morgan neighborhood as one of the District’s 12 high-crime “hot spots.” The distinction promises to increase police presence in one of the city’s densest corridors, as well as put the community at the front of the line for city services. The “hot-spot” program works: The majority of last year’s designees saw “much lower” crime rates than the rest of the city, according to Tara Dunlop, a special assistant to the city administrator.
At first, the label spelled good news to Josh Gibson, an Adams Morgan advisory neighborhood commissioner. He had grown tired of seeing beat cops tied up on 18th Street, chaperoning the weekend drunks to their cars—and diverting the manpower from the rest of his community. And maybe with the new tag, he’d get that mangled alley repaved just south of Kalorama Road and a sewer for the one behind 18th Street. “You get an all-points multi-service response to the area,” Gibson says.
But there was one problem with being dubbed a “hot spot.” It meant Adams Morgan would now be in the same category as such well-known signifiers of District blight as Sursum Corda and Lincoln Heights.
Gibson spilled his angst to his constituents in a Feb. 2 e-mail: “Will friends and family be concerned about visiting us? Will they be concerned for our safety? Will property values decline? Will our neighborhood businesses be hurt by the perception of danger?…My personal feeling is that this is a bit of a deal with the devil.”
While Gibson awaited his community’s response, he began pleading with police officials and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham to keep Adams Morgan’s hot-spot status a secret. “The one message I want to transmit to you is this: PLEASE DO NOT DO ANY P.R. regarding this hot spot,” Gibson wrote in a Feb. 3 e-mail to Graham and Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham, among others. “The negative PR of being declared a crime danger area would be very, very hurtful to our neighborhood businesses (particularly our more fragile daytime, lunch, and higher-end businesses)….I also do not relish explaining to my Jewish mother that I am living in a crime hot spot!”
Gibson promised to flood the zone once the designation and crime vanished: “Of course, at the end of our term as a hot spot, enormous PR can be done announcing the massive decrease in crime that (I hope) we’ve experienced.”
In his response, Newsham assured Gibson that he didn’t know of any major publicity campaigns under way to highlight city officials’ new name for Adams Morgan. He also defended the decision to place Adams Morgan on the hot-spot list, citing the “volume of people” who frequent the neighborhood. “Our approach in this particular hot spot is a proactive approach to prevent [it] from becoming an increasingly violent area,” Newsham wrote. “I think that you would agree that the potential for a serious violent incident in this area is becoming increasingly likely.”
Newsham’s e-mail did nothing to dissuade Gibson’s worry over Adams Morgan’s becoming grist for the evening news. Of the press, he wrote Newsham in a second e-mail, “If they pick up on even a hint of you saying that this is intended to prevent a riot, they’ll go bananas and the neighborhood will take a hit almost as bad as if a riot actually had happened!”
Gibson decided to expand his “deal with the devil” analogy, comparing the “hot-spot” trade-off to the plot of the flick Indecent Proposal. His hapless ’hood, reprising the Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson roles, had made a deal with the devil/Robert Redford—or in this case, City Administrator Robert Bobb. Gibson wrote his constituents that in exchange for extra city services, they were facing “a price we never should have been asked to pay.”
It all came back to the stigma of being called a “hot spot.” “If they need a fancy designation, then they should come up with a fancy designation that reflects our reality,” Gibson says. “You don’t take another neighborhood’s reality and pin it to us.”
The designation “was not based on violent crime,” says Lt. Mike Gottert, whose patrol area covers the hot spot’s territory. “It’s based on calls for police service and crime stats.” Aside from a 16 percent increase in robberies from 2003 to 2004, Gottert says that crime is down in the area, but there are still significant numbers of assaults, including a recent fatal stabbing that occurred a block from the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW.
Gibson says his constituents responded to his e-mails overwhelmingly in favor of making that deal with the devil. Alan Roth, another Adams Morgan advisory neighborhood commissioner, tried to set Gibson straight by noting in his own response that he’s just happy to get the additional policing. “Until Chief Ramsey makes good on his promise that we’re going to have more officers on an ongoing basis, I’ll take the extra resources any way I can get them,” he explains.
But as of Friday, Feb. 4, Gibson had one convert to his cause: Assistant Chief Newsham. Newsham wrote Councilmember Graham with the idea that the term “hot spot” could be in need of a good euphemism. He unveiled his own Orwellian “Special Enforcement Zone” as an option.
Gibson could only sniff at Newsham’s stab at branding. “How about something more community-policing-sounding, like ‘Key Community Footbeat’ or ‘Neighborhood Safety Zone’?” Gibson wrote.
“The ‘Special Enforcement Zone’ is the name that we are leaning towards,” Newsham says. Of Gibson’s favorites, he says, “They’re great suggestions, and we’ll definitely take them into consideration.” CP