On Feb. 12, Mayor Adrian Fenty had a last-minute scheduling change. He decided to forgo the opening of a youth drop-in center in Southeast for a chance to stand in front of the salt dome in Brentwood and brief reporters on preparations for the snowstorm.
LL left before the mayor. He almost immediately heard a siren and saw flashing red lights in the rearview and thought maybe he was being pulled over. He slowed down and steered toward the curb, but then noticed it wasn’t a fire truck or police officer behind him, it was Fenty flying past the traffic and running a red light.
Of course, LL figured there was some kind of emergency.
No, Fenty was late for an appearance at a community meeting in Brightwood.
It was no isolated incident.
Fenty’s staff couldn’t provide the total number of times his security detail has switched on the lights to keep the mayor on schedule, but reports from motorists, community leaders and even Fenty’s own staff suggest the light-flashing, siren-blaring mayoral entrance is standard fare.
The mayor’s security detail isn’t keen on talking to the press, but Fenty’s spokesperson, Carrie Brooks, asked folks in the office of police chief-designee Cathy Lanier when it was appropriate for Fenty to order the high-speed chase treatment. “We spoke with the chief’s office,” says Brooks. “There are no regulations that apply to the mayor.”
But the police did offer up some guidelines for applying the red-light treatment.
- During an emergency
- At the mayor’s discretion
- When the mayor is late for an event
You read that right: “When the mayor is late for an event.”
Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry was always late when he was mayor. That never stopped him from arriving in a cloud of dust with his lights and sirens engaged. He got a lot of grief for his theatrical approach to getting around town. It was a lesson not lost on Mayor Anthony Williams, who took a more laid-back approach to traffic and seldom announced his arrival with a siren.
The back-to-Barry approach isn’t just an every-now-and-then thing for Fenty. Several people who attended the events on Fenty’s schedule report a grand, flashy, and loud entrance for the mayor. A few motorists pulled over by the mayor’s SUV have written unsolicited e-mails to LL as well.
The Fenty policy on use of emergency signals stands in sharp contrast to government policy for use of other official vehicles. Title 18, Section 712.4, of the D.C. Code lays out the use of city motor vehicle equipment this way:
Whenever an emergency vehicle is equipped with a siren, the siren shall not be used except when the vehicle is being operated in response to an emergency call; or in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, in which case, the driver of the vehicle shall sound the siren when necessary to warn pedestrians and other drivers of the approach of the vehicle.
For the Fenty team, the sirens are the price to pay for a mayor who wants to keep in touch with the people. “When you combine the packed schedule with trying to get around the city, it can certainly put him behind,” Brooks says. “The mayor has a schedule that has to be kept and it involves many people over the course of the day,” she says. “He’s out and about in the community.”