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LL is as conspiratorial as anyone, but we’re becoming more and more astonished at the suspiciousness of District residents. Whenever anyone pushes a new idea for fixing the troubled District these days, local politicians and activists immediately begin digging for the “hidden agenda.”
So as soon as a few Washingtonians started discussing the reform of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), the shovels appeared and the dirt began to fly. When U.S. Attorney Eric Holder penned a two-part Op-Ed in the Washington Post (Jan. 31 and Feb. 1) detailing the decline of MPD, local politicians didn’t discuss the substance of Holder’s criticisms, they began speculating whether the U.S. Attorney was subtly launching his 1998 candidacy for mayor. (Holder denies any mayoral ambitions.)
And now the conspiracy theorists are having a field day over this week’s scheduled meeting between Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and a group of carefully selected D.C. residents lobbying to place MPD under federal control. These residents say a congressional takeover of MPD could bring improved morale, new management, and an infusion of federal cash to a collapsing department.
But supporters of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. see a much more sinister motive behind the meeting. The department is currently Hizzoner’s fiefdom. Barry’s allies believe that Hatch and fellow Republicans are hoping to wrest the department from Hizzoner’s grasp not because they’re concerned about public safety in Washington but because they dislike and distrust the mayor.
Barry’s allies also question the role of Mike Hubbard, whom they point to as the chief architect of “the plan” to establish a congressionally appointed commission to manage D.C. public safety. Hatch says there is no such plan. A former D.C. detective with 20 years on the force, Hubbard now works for Hatch, a longtime acquaintance. Hubbard was considered a good cop who often disagreed with his MPD superiors. During the ’80s, he filed numerous union grievances against the department, some of them successful, over hiring, training, and promotion practices. Some within the department view his work for Hatch as payback for earlier career roadblocks.
Opponents and allies alike are searching for the hidden agenda of Carl Rowan Jr., who is organizing the supporters of a congressional takeover. Rowan should not be confused with his father, gun-toting syndicated columnist Carl Rowan Sr., who a few years back shot a teenage intruder in his backyard swimming pool. Junior is a former FBI agent who now works as a lawyer in D.C. He has been carefully selecting members of the group expected to meet with Hatch and Hubbard on Thursday, Feb. 29. The meeting will include 20 people, among them Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, civic association leaders, merchants, orange-hat patrol leaders, police officers, and D.C. Council staffers, Rowan says.
Rowan Jr. has loudly criticized Barry’s promotions of officers to MPD’s top ranks who themselves have been accused of ethical and departmental violations. He became the spokesman for a group of residents—the Alliance for Public Safety—after he addressed a rally outside police headquarters last fall. That rally was held to bolster a proposal by freshman Rep. Fred Heineman (R-N.C.) to pump $42 million in new federal money into the department. But Barry spoke out forcefully against the proposal, and other local officials were reluctant to support it because they feared Congress would subtract the $42 million from the federal payment. Heineman’s proposal stalled on Capitol Hill and is now all but dead.
Since the rally, Rowan has alienated some of his allies by shifting the alliance’s position on congressional oversight of the department. Rowan has irked associates by embracing the idea of a federally appointed control board for the department and abandoning the original scheme of a federally funded, locally appointed commission.
He has also been accused of invoking the names of Holder, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Council Judiciary Committee Chairman William Lightfoot, and Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous, among others, as supporters of his efforts.
But all have spoken out against federalizing D.C. police and reportedly are unhappy that Rowan has been linking their names to the campaign. They were unable to complain directly to Rowan last week because he was stumping for GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) in New Hampshire. But Rowan says that all of the above-named leaders at least support his goal of trying to secure more federal money for the police and enact long-lasting reforms in the department.
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“There seems to have been a concerted effort to undermine this before it even got off the ground,” Rowan said this week. “But it has backfired.”
The fight over the crumbling MPD may soon become a national issue. Some local cops have been appealing to their national associations, including the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), to lobby for the federal public safety commission. These MPD officers are convinced that a congressional takeover is the only way to revive the department and secure pay raises that were denied last year. Any federal takeover is expected to be accompanied by more federal money. Incoming local FOP President Ron Robertson has predicted that the MPD will be “federalized” by May.
He must have meant May 1998, considering how slowly this congress is moving on the D.C. budget.
But District residents can’t wait even three months for relief. The deterioration of the department under Barry and former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly is forcing Chief Larry Soulsby into the humiliating position of beggar. He is pleading with community groups to donate money, Xerox paper, and other supplies to his sagging department. District police stations are becoming dependent upon their local civic organizations, just as local schools depend on their PTAs for much-needed supplies and funds. And as cops abandon the force by the hundreds, crime is rising again. The city suffered 10 more murders in January 1996 than in January 1995.
Speaking of rising crime, MPD will conduct a March 19 workshop for fearful Capitol Hill residents: “Defend Yourself: What’s Legal and How to Use It.” The workshop will cover such legal weapons as pepper sprays, mace, rifles, and shotguns. Manufacturers’ representatives will demonstrate the dos and don’ts of using their products.
Although handgun ownership is illegal in D.C., residents can still own shotguns and some kinds of rifles legally. Two years ago, Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 6A and 6B surveyed residents on gun ownership: One out of every four surveyed admitted to keeping a gun in the house. The survey didn’t distinguish between legal and illegal guns.
The upcoming workshop at the Unitarian Church, 7th and A Streets NE, is not intended as a “show and tell” of weapons and personal safety products, say local community organizers, who include members of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. But they admit that it indicates that crime-weary Hill dwellers are arming themselves and need to know how to use their new weapons safely….
Capitol Hill activist Jim Lawlor may want to stop by the workshop to pick up a weapon for himself. The normally peaceful Lawlor became incensed last week after his car was stolen from right under his nose. Not that Lawlor should be surprised that his ’93 Grand Am got heisted: He left it running, keys in the ignition, while he stopped in front of a Capitol Hill house to hand something to a neighbor. In those few seconds, a passer-by slid behind the wheel and drove off.
But Lawlor got lucky. Eighteen hours later, he found his car—unscathed—parked outside his house. When the car was stolen, the back seat was full of Clinton/Gore campaign literature. Perhaps the thief thought he had gotten in over his head and should return the car before the Secret Service started hunting for him. LL is going to start carrying around Clinton/Gore brochures in our back seat to see if they really do prevent crime….
A last item on the crime beat. On Valentine’s Day, D.C. school employees observed an MPD officer “displaying inappropriate behavior while nude” at the Weatherless Building, C and Burns Streets SE. According to the report filed with the Board of Education last week, “the officer was taken into custody by the department’s internal affairs branch.”
The incident occurred in the evening, and was not witnessed by any students at the former Ward 7 elementary school (it is now used for alternative educational programs). But the report touched off wild speculation over what exactly would constitute “appropriate behavior” for a nude police officer….
The control board is beginning to sound dismayingly like the council. Last week, the board voted to increase spending on police and public works, restore cuts in the summer youth jobs program made by the council, protect union workers from furloughs, and increase funding for advisory neighborhood commissions. These sweeteners were included in the board’s plan to trim another $87 million from the 1996 budget to meet congressionally imposed budget limits. As a public relations gimmick, the control board also cut its own budget 10 percent for the remainder of this fiscal year.
Three weeks ago, the board appeared to bow to public pressure when it spared the D.C. Office of Aging from the budget ax. Last week’s moves appeared to be designed to quiet criticism of the board’s push to close six schools and eight fire stations. The control board’s actions, which came just three days after another demonstration outside the board’s headquarters, reminded LL all too much of the flinching, ducking politics that have hamstrung the council for so many years….
Now a word from our psychic friends.
During the Feb. 19 broadcast of Ernest White’s talk show on WDCU-FM, former Ward 7 Councilmember H.R. Crawford was in the studio discussing the mayor’s government- transformation plan when political rabble-rouser Lawrence Guyot phoned in.
“I love Marion Barry to death, but Marion Barry has totally lost it,” said Guyot, a dedicated foe of the control board.
Crawford quickly disagreed. He said that he had watched Barry’s face closely during the mayor’s Feb. 14 and Feb. 16 news conferences announcing plans to cut 10,000 workers from the city payroll. “He looked like he was in real pain,” said Crawford.
Now it was Guyot’s turn to differ. “His face looked like he was totally enjoying,” he countered.
There ensued a brief discussion of who knew Barry’s face better. CP