Community-policing initiatives get ringing birth announcements but not much in the way of death notices. So it was that last week, in an offhand remark at a community meeting, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles Ramsey declared that the 13-year-old Mount Pleasant Police Community Center was defunct.
The center, which teetered on the rim of the 4th Police District, was born out of the 1991 Mount Pleasant riots. Neighborhood residents had pressed for more police presence on streets plagued by outdoor drinking, disorderly conduct, and public urination. After the riots—which broke out when a cop shot a man who had been drinking in public—the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance pooled $7,000 to create a local police post.
The location was an efficiency on the first floor of the Deauville, a cream-colored apartment building on Mount Pleasant Street, fronted with conifers and offering basement-level music and beauty shops. The studio, Apartment 100, has windows facing the road, elevated some 6 feet above street level.
“We bought furniture; we bought computers,” says Alliance board member Laurie Collins. “We bought telephones and an answering machine and a microwave and toilet paper. We bought a modem, a fax machine. We had it completely filled with a little substation environment.”
The idea, Collins says, was to provide a truck-stop environment where cops could eat lunch, check e-mail, brew some coffee, or use the bathroom—in effect, Collins says, “just be here.”
Police gladly complied. Sometimes, they didn’t leave the apartment for hours.
“They always thought they had to have somebody staffing it,” explains Alliance member Joan Gordon. “That wasn’t what we intended.”
Apartment 100 turned out to be nicely secluded—separated from the street by a flight of five steps and a telephone-entry box. Removed from the hubbub of patrolling and the eyes of department brass, officers found it to be a chill hangout.
“They ended up assigning a female officer in there who spent most of the time painting her fingernails,” Collins says, noting that she found nail polish in a desk and smelled polish remover when in the room. “We were still happy she was there. But we really wanted her on the streets.”
Another resident, who painted the room and equipped it with new office furniture in 1999, says she found magazines and playing cards strewn about.
Throughout the ’90s, the center fell victim to other problems. Police would lose their keys, Collins says, so the Alliance would have to pay to replace them. Maintenance, she says, was also an issue. “The microwave would break; the answering machine wasn’t working. I had to fix [a computer’s] hard drive a couple of times….It got corrupted.”
But the project’s greatest flaw proved to be bureaucratic. Because the police force’s roster is always in flux, the Alliance was constantly asking incoming officers to use the center and then training them how to use the computers. “Every time a sergeant or lieutenant would transition, we had to reinvent the wheel,” says Collins. After a while, she says, the police “just lost interest, and the community got tired of begging.”
One of the center’s last staffers, Officer Pedro Garcia, says he employed six youths during the summer of 2000 to take police reports by the phone. Then Garcia was transferred to the Latino Liaison Unit. “One of the biggest problems was not that officers would hide out,” he says, “but that it was not a real visible place. It was more private.”
Last November, the police opened an official Mount Pleasant substation on Park Road. Restrictions on alcohol sales have cut down on public drinking. The halls of the Deauville are littered with takeout containers and a snowfall of fliers for psychic guiding counselor “Mrs. Sarah.” Rumors have Apartment 100, along with the rest of the building, slated for condominiumization.
At a March 30 community meeting, someone asked the chief about the fate of the center. “I don’t need people disappearing,” Ramsey said, disowning the project.
“It’s sad,” laments Gordon. “We were the first people to support a neighborhood center. Georgetown modeled their [Community Policing Center] after ours.” CP