Over the past few years, as 7th Street downtown has become a hot late-night hangout, businesses and landlords have started getting antsy about rowdy youth—-to the point where, last fall, Gallery Place developer Herb Miller installed a “mosquito” device at the Chinatown Metro entrance that made high-pitched noises to disperse the kids. Then, last summer, the city tried “youth engagement” events in the wake of a couple brawls.
After protests, the mosquito disappeared, and winter cooled the youthful crowds. But Miller is still worried about crime in the neighborhood, according to an email netted by my colleague Alan Suderman in a Freedom of Information Act request. On Oct. 3, Miller wrote to Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander:
Deputy Mayor Quander, in 1995-96, I chaired the Mayor’s Downtown Task Force that led to over $20 Billion of redevelopment in the heart of our city. Chip Akridge and I jointly developed Gallery Place as our contribution to that effort for DC. Recently the enormous increase in crime in the Chinatown neighborhood has alarmed me, my partners, Chip, Doug Jemal, the Verizon Center and nearly 40 businesses in the area along 7th, F and H Streets. We have formed the Chinatown Business Alliance to voice our real safety concerns in the neighborhood. Our Alliance members are not only the eyes and ears on the ground, but businesses essential to ensuring development and progress in DC.
Criminal activity and violence is at an all-time high and business owners are taking notice. Patrons and employees are in harm’s way, at all hours of the day, Even patrolling officers have been attacked and hospitalized and are fearful for their own safety. If not addressed quickly, the criminal activity will continue to negatively impact office and retail traffic and stall economic growth. We know that there is no overnight fix, so we’ve prepared a recommendation for several initiatives to help remedy the situation. The Chinatown Business Alliance stands ready to assist and support in the effort. These initiatives are:
1) Allocate sufficient resources to the Metropolitan Police Department to adequately patrol the area, and impose a “ZERO TOLERANCE” policy that will empower the police and the court system to enforce laws against all criminal activity.
2) Improve the coordination among all forms of law enforcement in downtown including MPD, Metro Transit Police, and Homeland Security and develop an integrated response system utilizing all public and private-sector building security cameras similar to the methods developed in New York City and Chicago. The Downtown BID has been working on such an approach and it is time to move it to a greater and more immediate priority.
3) Develop an “Rapid Response Team” to respond to flash mob-type incidents.
4) Relocate the existing Metro bus stop at 7th and H Street to one block east to reduce sidewalk congestion and repeated criminal activity.
5) Implement a legal “Anti-Loitering Ordinance” to assist the police.
I have attached a letter that I am going to give to Mayor Gray tomorrow from the Chinatown Business Alliance as well as a video that interviews several of the business owners as they express their serious crime concerns. I would be pleased to get together with you. I will invite Chip, Doug, the execs from the Verizon Center and Rich Bradley of the BID. We cannot let the economic machine that Gallery Place/Chinatown has become be destroyed by a reputation as a high-crime area.
Zero tolerance policy? Anti-loitering ordinance? How Giuliani-esque! Reached by phone to discuss his proposals, however, Miller struck a different tune: The most important thing, he said, was to find something for homeless people to do during the day so they don’t beg and raise a ruckus.
“A lot of the problems are caused by the fact that the homeless are just dumped on the street during the day,” Miller said, referring to the busloads of homeless men who arrive from shelters way outside downtown, like 801 East and 1355 New York Avenue NE. “They panhandle, sell drugs, because they’re not helped.”
Some of that will get better when Central Union Mission moves into the Gales School at 65 Massachusetts Ave. NW. But Miller thinks downtown developers might be able to help, too—-apparently Chinatown land baron Douglas Jemal offered the possibility of housing homeless resources in one of his vacant buildings during the day. Douglas Development’s new director of leasing, Joe Ruzecki, didn’t know anything about it when I talked to him this morning, but Jemal’s been generous with his property before. Plus, he’s got enough of it.
“I think he probably owns every vacant building in the city,” says Miller.