The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) seems fixated on three issues: camouflaging its bungling of the Chandra Levy investigation, the approaching arrival of a fresh wave of World Bank protesters, and cars. Yes, cars.
LL can understand the department’s determination to catch and punish speeders, but she is as offended by this Big Brother camera thing as Rep. Dick Armey, the Texas Republican who’s been on a tear about regular folks’ being subjected to electronic surveillance. Although MPD officials insist that using cameras to reduce speeding is effective, they know it’s mostly about money: The MPD and its corporate partner, Lockheed Martin IMSwhich provides the cameras and processes the paperworkestimate that they will rake in a total of $160 million from traffic fines by 2004.
But the MPD’s fetish isn’t just for moving carsthe department’s got a jones for parked ones, too. While District residents are murdered, raped, robbed, and otherwise abused by criminals, a disproportionate amount of police attention is being devoted to catching parking violators.
LL received several telephone calls this month complaining about aggressive ticket-writing by police officers from the 2nd and 3rd Districts. Some callersAdams Morgan residents and visitors, particularlyeven accused the police of being in cahoots with private towing companies, which can make up to $400 on a single tow, according to estimates by government officials.
Adams Morgan residents are especially stressed these days because the neighborhood’s largest parking lot was devoured by a developer hoping to cash in on the city’s hot housing market. That means visitors squeeze into every hole they can find, diminishing available spots for residents.
LL decided one recent Friday night to take a look-see for herself just how bad things are. Sure enough, the guys in blue were there with ticket pads in hand, marching not on 18th Street, the main thoroughfare, but on Kalorama Road, Champlain Street, and even Euclid Street, placing pink slips on cars that looked to be well within the protective limits of the city’s Residential Permit Parking Area Emergency Amendment Act of 2000. That law, introduced by At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz and approved by the full legislature earlier this year, allows a resident to park nearly anywhere within his or her residential zone, as long as the vehicle doesn’t obstruct a fire hydrant, an intersection, or a private driveway. Drivers can even park in a loading zone for a business if that establishment is closed for the evening. The relaxed parking restrictions are supposed to apply from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. When LL happened upon the MPD’s ticket-writing frenzy, it was 11:30 p.m.
Naturally, LL inquired why the officers were handing out tickets instead of patrolling areas where the crowds were. One officer, who was in such a rush he didn’t even stop for LL to get his name, said: “We’re making sure the streets are safe. We are providing a public safety.”
Schwartz says trying to provide sufficient parking for both residents of and visitors to high-density areas such as Adams Morgan, Georgetown, and Capitol Hill is a “balancing act.” She says she intends to hold hearings in the fall on parking issues in the District, adding, “I did all I could do to help alleviate the parking woes.” She says that ultimately the mayor is responsible for the police department’s violation of the law.
Capt. Willie Smith of the 3rd District, which includes Adams Morgan, is unabashed about the ticketing. “We do tell our people to go out and write tickets,” he admits, adding that, although he knows about the relaxed law, there is some confusion about what is a “high-density area.” (This is the kind of comment that raises questions about the intellectual level of the city’s police force. Who would doubt that Adams Morgan on a Friday night is High Density Central?)
Smith says that in the 3rd District more than two dozen officers are assigned to the late-night shift; there are comparable assignments in the city’s other club zones, he says.
“We’re just trying to make sure people have a safe area to have their parties,” Smith adds.
“What it is, because we have a lot more people [on duty], they are trying to find something to do,” he continues. “I’ll talk to the commander to see what we can do to slow down [the ticket-writing].”
Have mercy! If the captain doesn’t get it, how can anyone expect the rank and file to process the fact that MPD officers shouldn’t be writing routine parking tickets at night? Period. End of story.
Advice to MPD Chief Charles Ramsey: If your commanders want to know what their officers should do in neighborhoods around entertainment zones, send a few on a trip to New York City. There the police officers in Times Square and other hot night spots walk their short beats. Some are stationed at specific corners. A few even talk with the tourists. Imagine that.
CHIEFS OF STAFF
Although Abdusalam Omer, the mayor’s former chief of staff, resigned earlier this year under intense criticism for his style and handling of several controversial issues, some people thought he did a fine job. Well, sort of.
“He did get in a little trouble in the role as chief of staff, but his contributions in the budget office were enormous,” says Leonard Sullivan Jr., head of the National Association to Restore Pride in America’s Capital (NARPAC), a group of “concerned citizens” who are interested in the city’s future.
Omer joined the District government as a budget analyst during former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly’s administration and made his way up the food chain to become the city’s budget director in 1998, before assuming the job of mayoral gatekeeper in 1999.
NARPAC will present Omernot the chief of staff but the former budget directorwith its third “Hats Off Award” at an Aug. 15 ceremony at One Judiciary Square to be hosted by Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Only those with good things to sayor, to ensure Sullivan’s participation, partially good thingsare expected to receive invitations.
Meanwhile, making his rounds last weekhis first week on the jobwas the mayor’s new chief of staff, Kelvin Robinson, whose insubordination earlier this year in Florida made front-page news last month and earned him a critical editorial in the Washington Post (although it’s hard to understand why insubordination by an employee of a private organization in another state would merit front-page status).
Folks who complained that they couldn’t understand what Omer was saying half the time will be relieved. Robinson doesn’t have an accentnot even a Southern onealthough because he is so Northern-lobbyist-smooth, LL is sure that when the occasion requires, he can lay on a thick gentlemanly drawl. Smiling and animated during lunch with LL at the National Building Museum, Robinson attempted to sell himself as the right man for the job.
He promises to reorganize the executive office of the mayor, including the sloppy communications operation and the inept Office of Intergovernmental Relations, which is supposed to ensure that the administration and the council don’t always come out fighting.
“What you’re going to see is a new engagement of the council and the kind of coordination of departments you have not seen before,” Robinson says. He also plans to focus on the community-building apparatus within the mayor’s office, including the Office of the Public Advocate, which has had four directors in three years.
Robinson says he knows that some people question whether he can be effective, because he isn’t from the District and doesn’t know the players. But he says he has spent the past several weeks since his appointment learning his way around. “I’ve done my own drive-through of Wards 6, 7, and 8,” he says, adding that he and his family have moved, at least temporarily, into Ward 6.
“I have a laundry list of people to see. I’m meeting with everybody and anybody,” he continues, dropping the names of H.R. Crawford and the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks.
But Robinson’s examples prove the point that he needs a political guide. Crawford, a developer and former Ward 7 councilmember who had a questionable tenure and was unseated by Mayor-in-Wanting Kevin Chavous, has wiggled his way into the good graces of the Williams administration. But he certainly can’t be considered a major political player.
And Hicks, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, doesn’t live in the District, and neither do most members of his congregation. In 1999, Hicks got into such an ugly spat with his Shaw neighbors over his members’ habit of parking their Jaguars and Mercedeses on a school ballfield that the church decided to relocate, taking its amens and hallelujahs to Prince George’s County. Jonetta Rose Barras
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