Is Cathy Lanier a big-city police chief, or the media-watchdog character from an obscure Franz Kafka story?

Yesterday’s dead-tree edition of Washington City Paper features an article on how Lanier’s Metropolitan Police Department asks neighborhood residents and local media outlets to not mention the names of local gangs. The top cop says the blackout is all about not encouraging gangs. Critics wonder whether it’s really all about shielding the department from criticism.

Earlier today, Lanier took to the airwaves to tell WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi that the City Paper story, which identified two of the crews in question, got the names wrong. Unfortunately, Lanier wouldn’t say just how it was wrong. To do so, she explained, would mean identifying gang names, which MPD doesn’t do. A conundrum!

With no further clarification from Lanier, we turn to Petworth resident Marcus Carpenter. Carpenter attended an October 15 crime briefing about violence in the neighborhood, during which Lanier mentioned crews called CRT and Taylor Street—the same crews sources identified for the initial City Paper story about the blackout. “The two names that you named were named,” he says. Carpenter also mentions that “there were two other ones.”

Maybe Lanier just meant that our list was incomplete. Not that there’s any way to know for sure, given the non-discussion policy about crew names.

Others who said they attended the meeting and heard the names were unwilling to be quoted after cops asked that the names not be publicized. Carpenter doesn’t shrink from putting the information out there. “If it was that secret, they never would have mentioned it. It was all a little goofy.”

For the record, Carpenter says he’s taking the violence in his neighborhood seriously—and thinks law enforcement is doing the same.

“I’ve got no beef with MPD. I think they’re doing a good job,” he says. But he’s afraid that at meetings like the one on the 15th MPD is substituting theatrics for substance. “I wanted more of a dialogue,” he says. They’re not talking to the community. They’re talking at the community.”

Carpenter’s sentiment seems right on. No one wants to beat up on those who risk their lives to make ours safer. But it just might be that an animated, uncensored dialogue about what’s happening in communities like Petworth is an essential part of public safety. And, as an extra bonus, the police chief would be able to tell us exactly what bone-headed error we allegedly made.

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