Last night MPD Chief Cathy Lanier hosted her first “Community Book Club Discussion” at the building housing the new Target store in Columbia Heights. If you could tune out the ambient noise from the building atrium, it did look and feel a bit like a bookish gathering: There were a pair of comfy leather chairs for Lanier and the moderator, ABC-7 News anchor Leon Harris, stools for the officers, authors, and activists on the panel, a classy lamp, and nice big leafy plant. I’m not sure if the plant was real or fake, but it’s available for $79.99 at Target; the price tag was left on.

The stated goal of the event was to discuss Malcolm Gladwell’s books The Tipping Point and Blink, but in truth the evening—-attended by roughly 50 people who weren’t officially attached with the event or covering it—-was mainly an attempt to advocate for broken windows theory (Lanier called it “critical to law enforcement”) while brainstorming ideas for community involvement.

For instance, here are a few of discussion questions included in the handout last night:

How do we reach all members of our community to raise the sense of social responsibility when it comes to public safety?

How do we tip community perception of police to one that signifies trust and confidence?

Think of the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen you know. How can MPD and other District agencies get to those powerful individuals in your community to help spread their positive messages?

What followed in response to all this was an hour or so of discussion of street-level engagement with drug dealers, trash, and prostitution that produced no useful solutions. (As Harris wisely pointed out, Gladwell’s nifty at identifying the “little things” after a change has occurred, but not so helpful when it comes to doing so beforehand.) Neighborhood organizers piped up, and the conversations occasionally got contentious. One woman who said she lives five blocks from the Sixth District station said that her car had been stolen repeatedly in a matter of months, and that residents are intimidated by the kids on the corners.

“Do you talk to them?” one of the panelists offered.

Don’t belittle me, sir,” she responded. Of course she talked to them; of course she offered help. Some discussion ensued about energizing neighbors to get involved, but she wasn’t having that. “I don’t know how you energize people when they feel terrorized,” she said.

Photo by Señor Codo