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D.C. Office of Planning Director Andy Altman has lent his considerable expertise to important community-development projects for the Anthony A. Williams administration: The Anacostia waterfront initiative. The St. Elizabeths redevelopment plan. The proposed baseball stadium.
He’s also a surprise architect of the District’s new community-policing plan.
The proposed structure would reduce the number of police service areas, known as PSAs, from the current 83 to 39. The redrawn PSA boundaries roughly conform to the Office of Planning’s 39 neighborhood clusters, which Altman and his geography-inclined colleagues collaborated with D.C. residents to create. After drawing the borders, they confabbed on so-called strategic neighborhood action plans, or SNAPs, outlining how D.C. agencies might team up with neighbors to deliver façade improvements and traffic-calming devices.
So LL hoped to spot Altman at “Crime Forum II: Building Partnerships for Safe Neighborhoods,” which was held at Scripture Cathedral in Shaw last Saturday morning. He didn’t make it.
LL didn’t have to hunt through the crowd: The pews weren’t exactly at Easter Sunday capacity. D.C.’s legislative branch seemed to have better weekend plans, as well. Only Ward 1’s Jim Graham slogged through the four-hour event, though At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil, Ward 4’s Adrian M. Fenty, and Ward 7’s Kevin P. Chavous popped in before heading off to other activities. “I had a soccer engagement,” explains Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary, which oversees the Metropolitan Police Department.
Back in January, the mayor and Chief Charles H. Ramsey invited concerned D.C. residents to attend what LL will henceforth call Crime Forum I, a six-hour-plus summit at Eastern Senior High filled with public-safety platitudes. Crime Forum II pretty much picked up where the previous edition left off: In a panel discussion on youth and crime prevention, Ramsey lamented the “breakdown” of parental responsibility. “Don’t have these babies if you’re not ready to raise ’em!” Ramsey lectured the crowd.
That segued into Ramsey’s thoughts on the popular video game Grand Theft Auto. “These kids are trying to play that out in life. This is absolute insanity. The people who are making this are poisoning our kids, but what about the parents?” Ramsey asked.
The town-hall discussion featured very little talk about the 911 call center, homicide closure rates, nuisance crimes, and other public-safety matters that usually top the list of community concerns. “You get the mayor and the chief in a room and you talk about social issues that have nothing to do with police?” Fenty later commented. “We were there to talk about policing.”
Between theories about the media’s perpetuation of violence and the breakdown of the nuclear family, Williams and Ramsey did manage to work in a few comments about their proposed community-policing strategy. “I believe in the PSA model, but it’s only as good as the people who make it happen out there,” the chief noted. Both the mayor and the chief argue that the expanded patrol boundaries offer more flexibility in deploying officers to crime hot spots. Where the current system might have 20 or so officers confined within each of the 83 areas, the hormone-enhanced PSAs might have up to 100 in high-crime areas, says Ramsey.
And if you made the city one giant PSA, Ramsey would have the flexibility to deploy all 3,625 officers on the payroll.
Well, not quite. According to an April Committee on the Judiciary report, less than 50 percent of Metropolitan Police Department officers actually patrol the streets. The department has assigned 1,995 uniformed officers and officials to the PSAs, the report says, and “1,548 are available for duty.” Staffing has been a perennial issue with PSAs since their introduction six years ago. In a one PSA, a recent Washington Post story noted, only one officer was on duty for an entire shift.
“Now you have twice the area with two officers,” comments At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who has been critical of Ramsey on 911 and PSA deployment issues. “I think no matter how you splice it, dice it, or cut it, it still comes down to implementationhaving enough officers in each PSA.”
At one point, a Crime Forum II attendee sitting behind Fenty questioned whether the new PSA structure would make police more visible in the neighborhoods. “He was told that question was for the breakout sessions,” Fenty says.
LL attended breakout sessions for both the 6th and 7th Districts. Specific PSA staffing levels never came up in either discussion.
One other big topic was glossed over at the forum: Ramsey’s contract. Last week, Williams announced that he and the chief had settled on a new five-year contract that would boost the chief’s pay from $150,000 to $175,000 a year, as well as give him additional benefits. The salary increase and benefits package need council approval.
Councilmembers want to use their review of the contract to tie the chief’s pay to his accomplishments. Several have argued for performance benchmarks. “To this point, the chief has done a mediocre job,” says Ward 8’s Sandy Allen. “I want to ensure that the money matches performance.”
Ramsey insists that no other cabinet member has performance targets mandated by the council. “It’s not about the moneyit’s about what’s fair,” says Ramsey. “This department is far better today than when I took it over.”
Other councilmembers have gone further. “I’m not able to support this package,” says Patterson, who suggests freezing Ramsey’s pay for a year, with any raise contingent on performance goals. “In a pay-for-performance government, you have performancethen you pay.”
Yet councilmembers stop short of telling Ramsey to take a hike.
The council wants to make a point to Ramsey, but not enough to drive him away. “If Chief Ramsey were to leave, there would be a period of uncertainty, which is not good,” Ward 2’s Jack Evans explained to readers of the Georgetowner, in a recent column. “The question becomes who would replace Ramsey. My preference is to hire from within….Naturally, no one really comes to mind.”
And if the council rejects Ramsey’s pay raise? “I’ll just dust off my résumé, move forward, and see what happens,” he says.
“I’m not going to sing for my supper,” Ramsey told LL Saturday.
Ward 2’s Evans loathes a few things: High taxes. Out-of-control spending. Unsharpened pencils.
E. Barrett Atwood adds another item to the list of things Evans hates: to boogie. “I think Footloose is starting to come true here,” says Atwood, who is president of the D.C. Nightlife Coalition, a recently formed group of club owners, promoters, ravers, and other proponents of good times out on the town. In other words, coalition members want to kick off their Sunday shoes, all over the city.
Atwood casts Evans in the John Lithgow role, referring to a bill the councilmember proposed last year restricting dance floors to 10 by 10 feet. “If they want me to be their worst enemy, I will be their enemy,” Evans responds.
He adds context to the anti-nightlife quotes the coalition attributes to Evans on its Web site: “I can’t think of anywhere in this city that nightclubs are appropriate anymore….
There are no areas that are appropriate for this type of behavior. If you want to have it, put it out in Silver Spring. That’s a great place for it,” remarked Evans at a January 2002 council hearing.
His remarks, Evans explains, focused on businesses that illegally use restaurant licenses to operate as nightclubs. Recently, Evans has received e-mails telling the councilmember who represents downtown, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, and other D.C. nightlife hot spots not to be such a drip. “Essentially if you’re going to operate as an illegal nightclub, we don’t want you here,” defends Evans. “The residents of Ward 2 support me. And since the residents vote, I’m more than happy to support them.”
•D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox and Ward 5’s Vincent B. Orange Sr. have developed quite a reciprocal relationship: For almost every investigation D.C.’s top watchdog launches into a municipal agency, the Committee on Government Operations chair retaliates with a hearing looking right back at Maddox.
Last spring, while the inspector general investigated nonprofit fundraising within the Executive Office of the Mayor, inquiries arose within Orange’s committee about Maddox’s residence and job qualifications. This spring, after Maddox’s investigators snooped around the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, Orange countered with an inquisition questioning Maddox’s motives.
Now comes the latest Maddox-Orange intrigue: Who removed handwritten notes from the office of Kathy Williams, general counsel for the Office of Campaign Finance, and how did they end up as part of the inspector general’s investigation into that D.C. agency?
At a May 12 hearing, Williams told Orange she was surprised to see her personal scribbles as part of Maddox’s file. Williams insists that she didn’t hand the papers over voluntarily and that she stored them in her locked office. “We do not believe offices that are locked should be broken into,” testified D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Chair Benjamin F. Wilson.
In a written statement, Maddox responded, “No employee in my office broke into Ms. Williams’ office nor did any employee direct anyone else to do so.”
Yadda yadda yadda.
The tit-for-tat does have an endgame. Last month, Orange’s council colleagues legislated Maddox out of his job: Over the mayor’s veto, they passed an emergency bill requiring that D.C.’s inspector general either have seven years’ experience as a certified public accountant or be a seven-year veteran of the D.C. bar and graduate of an accredited law school. The law takes effect June 1.
Maddox meets neither requirement.
Maddox spokesperson Gloria Johnson had no comment on Maddox’s summer plans.
•Developers and business owners often come before advisory neighborhood commissions to seek the groups’ favorable “great weight” opinions.
On May 7, Ronald Dickson presented his plan for economic development to Shaw and Chinatown residents, who held their monthly commission meeting at Tony Cheng’s Mongolian Restaurant. Dickson wants to rent a Cheng property at 617 I St. NW. “We’re trying to bring back something D.C. hasn’t seen in a while: the old burlesque,” Dickson told those in attendance.
“What do you mean by ‘burlesque?’” asked one woman.
“You know, when they come out in an evening gown and end up in a two-piece suit, do a fan dance or a ballroom dance,” answered Dickson.
A two-piece suit?
Dickson clarified. “They will be nude,” he said.
Commission Chair “Mahdi” Leroy Joseph Thorpe Jr. added his own great weight to the discussion. “Hooters is worse than this here. You got women walking around in there butt-naked,” remarked Thorpe, who later voiced his support for burlesque. “Chinatown should have the right to determine its own destiny!” CP
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