We chat with D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier about the city's strategy to combat the spike in violent crime taking place in the nation's capital.
The District today is among the safest of big cities, far from the “murder capital” it once was. Yet recent shootings in the area recall shades of the neighborhood’s violent past. D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier joins a studio audience for this “Kojo In Your Community” at NPR’s NoMa headquarters to explore what the rapid transformation of neighborhoods like NoMa has meant for public safety.
- Cathy Lanier Chief, Metropolitan Police Department (Washington, D.C.)
10 Highlights From KIYC: Public Safety In NoMa And Across The District
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier discussed recent crime headlines and gave an update on public safety in NoMa and the District.
- 1. Statistics show year-to-date homicide numbers are up across the city. But a monthly comparison to last year’s numbers show a drop, said D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier. Non-fatal shootings are down, robberies are down and violent crime is down by 15 percent. Lanier partially attributed the drop to the time of year, as violent crime decreases during colder months — though domestic violence cases spike during this same period.
- 2. Youth involvement in violent crime is lower in D.C. than the national average. In the District, the violent crime rate among youths is 9 percent. Nationally, it’s almost 15 percent.
- 3. There’s a “settling period” of crime rates in all new neighborhoods. Lanier said crime spiked in NoMa almost two years ago, but has since settled. As residency rates rise, the tension between new and old neighborhoods tends to relax.
- 4. A common sentiment echoed through KIYC: NoMa residents feel safe in their neighborhood. As with any large city, residents take precautions to avoid being victims, such as not walking while talking on a smart phone. But they don’t feel confined to their homes after dark, many said.
- 5. Heroin is going to be next big drug threat in the city, Lanier said. An extremely potent form of heroin that’s caused overdoses across the nation has reached D.C.
- 6. On the D.C. Council’s marijuana decriminalization bill: “I don’t think it’s going to have a huge impact on the city. I don’t think it’s going to have a huge impact on crime,” Lanier said. She added that smoking and driving will be the police department’s main concern if Congress approves the law.
- 7. Lanier thinks D.C. is the most beautiful city in America. The KIYC audience heartily agreed.
- 8. Those “SWAT-like” uniforms some D.C. police officers wear are actually mountain bike uniforms. Lanier said bicycle cops need extra pockets because they don’t drive a vehicle.
- 9. The Metropolitan Police Department responds to a Priority 1 call in about five minutes. Lanier, who has been on the force for 24 years, credited the fast response time to improved technology. “The tools we used back then [in the 1990s] were just short of a slate and chisel,” she recalled. The department is now one of the most technologically-advanced police forces in the U.S.
- 10. Lanier feeds the deer that have been displaced into her Fort Lincoln neighborhood in Northeast D.C. because of development in other parts of the city. “I feed them. I do feed them.”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 welcome to Kojo in Your Community. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. We're coming to you from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. on North Capitol Street. The room where we're gathered sits along a fault line of change here in the district.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAll up and down North Capitol Street, the new residents, new businesses and new money flooding in every day are representative of the changes that have been sweeping cross this city for the past two decades. But we're also just around the corner from the site of a mass drive-by shooting that took place a year ago this week, a sobering reminder that when it comes to crime, the city still obviously has a ways to go.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn fact, the citywide homicide rates so far in 2014 is double what it was at this point last year, all of which begs a few questions. Is this a relapse or is crime merely spiking in neighborhoods left behind by the changes taking place elsewhere and in neighborhoods like this one? How is the nature of crime likely to evolve with all the changes taking place block by block, day by day?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to help us facilitate that conversation is Cathy Lanier. She is chief of the metropolitan police department here in the District of Columbia. Cathy Lanier, thank you so much for joining us.
CHIEF CATHY LANIERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd we have a studio audience, as you just heard, here on North Capitol Street. And you'll be hearing their voices throughout the course of this conversation. If you have questions or comments, please just raise your hand and we'll come to you. Chief Lanier, homicides are up. What's going on?
LANIERWell, it's -- you know, the way we look at homicides as police officers, and certainly as the police chief, is a little bit different than the way the news media and the general public look at them. If you look at where we are for the month of March this year compared to the same month, you know, March of last year, homicides are down in March. If you look at the number of homicides year-to-date, we have an increase in homicides year-to-date.
LANIERBut we had an extremely low beginning of the year last year. And I think there has been some impact on our homicide numbers this year because of a pattern that we've seen across, at least the northeastern United States. Because Baltimore, Philly, Boston all are experiencing the same thing in January, which is the weather, a lot of cold weather, snow, people being in homes for extended periods of time. So we've seen an increase in domestic violence cases.
LANIERSo when I saw we look at it differently, I don't -- I think the general public thinks there's some sort of gang war going on and there's shooting every day. But actually, nonfatal shootings are down this year. We have a decrease. And robberies are down and violent crime is down 15 percent.
LANIERSo it's -- you know, we really have to look at the totality of the circumstances of these homicides. Am I concerned? Sure, I'm concerned if it's one higher than last year.
NNAMDIBut as they say, perception is everything. And when we mentioned the even that happened here about a year ago this week, what are specific things that police, and for that matter public officials, can do to bring down the crime rates that involve young people?
LANIERYou know, that has been -- that case was really such an anomaly. And I'll tell you, we closed that case. We arrested everybody involved in that case. And that is a case that really what, as you see in the transformation of policing and the transformation of our communities in particular, NoMa, technology allowed us to identify everybody involved in that case and make arrests in those cases and close those cases with conviction because of the technology that we have involved now and the way we police our city.
LANIERSo there's a lot of things involved but, you know, youth involved in violent crime is not as high as everybody thinks it is either. In fact, we are lower than the national average.
NNAMDII was about to say...
LANIERThe national average of juveniles arrested for violent crime is 14.6 percent. And Washington, D.C. is about 9 percent. So I think it is perception largely. And a lot of that is what gets news coverage and what doesn't? And, you know, fortunately or unfortunately we have very little control over what gets, you know, more coverage than other things.
NNAMDIYou mentioned earlier that people think there's some kind of gang war going on. What is the situation with gangs, or crews as they at least used to be called, maybe are still called, in Washington, D.C.?
LANIERWell, that's the one thing I think we've made the most progress in. If you just think back to Trinidad 2008 -- in 2007, 2008 we had a significant gang retaliation problem in the city. There was one weekend that we had 11 murders in a weekend. So we're sitting here today alarmed -- you know, extremely alarmed that we had 14 cases in the month of January.
LANIERAnd actually two of those cases were cases that were prior year cases. So 12 homicides in January is alarming as we had 11 in a weekend just a few years ago. That's what happens when gangs are involved in gang wars. And so we've come a long way. Our gang intelligence units working with community groups and people in our communities, we have really stopped that retaliatory cycle of violence.
LANIERDo we still have gangs? Yes. The gangs have evolved a lot like the communities have evolved. So they are no longer centered around neighborhoods or schools. They're -- because everybody's so transient. So now they -- not necessarily all from the same neighborhood. They're not necessarily all from the same school. They meet up from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia at a favorite hotspot, maybe Silver Spring, you know, at the movie theater or maybe, you know, somewhere in one of our entertainment zones.
LANIERAnd so they're a little bit more eclectic groups of folks. And they're not really as much into drug trade. So now it's more property theft and things of that nature. So they still exist but very, very different.
MR. KALFANI TUREYeah, I think -- you know, I think if you look at the movement of peoples through Hope VI and through like policies, you'll discover that what is happening is that people, for example in Temple Courts, are moved into communities like Berry Farm. And these might in fact be two rivaling communities and they're fighting over now a small geography of perhaps drug space.
MR. KALFANI TUREAnd so, it's not your department's fault but I wish it was better at coordination around this policy with regards to redeveloping communities. Because that might in fact -- you might in fact have a better impact on the homicide rates.
LANIERYou're very perceptive. We have seen that. We have seen it not only with merging of housing properties -- and we experienced spikes when those were occurring -- and we also have seen it with merging of schools. So we have experienced that and we did see those spikes.
LANIEROnce we realized that was happening we did start working more closely with the housing and with the schools. That has helped a great deal.
NNAMDIWe're talking about development that's been taking place around the city but development which has not really touched some of the communities in the city. What can be done to protect those more vulnerable communities today from crime?
LANIERWell, you know, I've noticed in a lot of the newer communities what we see is when they first start flourishing -- and NoMa's no exception -- when they first start developing -- we've actually done extensive studies of how the new development is impacting crime and how the neighborhoods, you know, change and react in terms with working with police. And what we see is when the development first starts, there's anchor places that come in and some new restaurants. And you start to bring more people from outside of the area, even if it's just for entertainment purposes.
LANIERSo we see changes in crime patterns almost immediately. We see the arrests we're making are more for people from not in the area. But it settles down. As the development continues, the new residents -- because the residents usually spike at the end of a development. So NoMa still has a ways to go and the number of residents will continue to grow here in NoMa. I mean, NoMa's development really started to grow when the ATF and some other anchors that came in the area.
LANIERAnd so when those residents spike, by the time you get that big influx of population, the residents are working closely with the neighboring -- you know, the longtime residents that have been around the area for a long time. And that relationship has settled and things are much smoother. So there is a little tension in new neighborhoods versus old neighborhoods, especially since the -- you know, everything is so different, mostly economically. You have a much bigger gap in new neighborhoods and old neighborhoods of economic gap. So that's really the big thing that has to settle.
NNAMDIOur guest is Cathy Lanier, chief of the metropolitan police department in the District of Columbia. It's Kojo in Your Community coming from the headquarters of National Public Radio on North Capitol Street. A few questions I'd like to throw out to our audience here.
NNAMDIDo you feel safe living or working in this neighborhood? What are your most pressing concerns about the place when it comes to public safety? How would you say the nature of crime has evolved in this neighborhood since new businesses and new residents began flooding in during the past several years? How have the public safety needs changed with this rapid neighborhood transformation? If you have answers to those questions or questions of your own, just raise your hand and we'll be happy to come to you. There's a hand raised over there. Go right ahead, please.
BARBARA TELLISHi, Barbara Tellis, and I live right in the neighborhood. I've lived in a city and I'm an urban person. So I think you need to be smart living in any urban city. And I feel safe in NoMa. I mean, there's certainly areas that I'm not walking around at 10, 11, midnight, 2:00 in the morning. But getting to and from my office and getting to and from the metro and walking down to H Street in the middle of an afternoon, I mean, I think you just -- I think you need to be smart all over Washington. I don't think it's just...
LANIERAnd you say not walking down the street with your phone in your hand.
TELLISRight. Well, but that is true. And I know that -- I think the first week here -- I have a dog. They said, don't walk Capitol between New York and K, you know, with your dog and your phone. And five people in my building had been mugged for their phones on that neighborhood, that stretch. You know, I just think it's a city. Chicago's the same way, you know. So it's still livable...
LANIERWait a minute. Don't compare us to Chicago.
TELLISBut I lived in a changing neighborhood in Chicago, so it was the same thing. I mean, it was the same thing going on so I just think NoMa has -- obviously it's come a long way. It still has a long way to go. And I think if you're smart being here -- we all want...
LANIERWell, if it makes you feel better, 90 percent of all the crime in the city is property crime. It really is property crime. And NoMa actually -- crime is settled here. The spike in NoMa was a year-and-a-half ago and crime is settled and is down. So...
TELLISBut my thing is, I want us all to live together. You know, it's not like I came here to say, we're going to take it over. We should have a bunch of yups living here and that's what should happen. We all need to share this community. And one of the reasons I moved here is because it wasn't the same people.
ERIC SHEPTAUKWell, first of all, I should say that the chief just stole my thunder because I was going to mention the fact that only 4 percent of the 45,000 arrests every year in D.C. are actually for violent crimes. And so I think that we're spending an inordinate amount of time on that issue. I mean, it's definitely relevant but at the same time, the 96 percent that are, like you say, property crimes and other, you know, nonviolent crimes.
ERIC SHEPTAUKI should also point out that a homeless man was found dead in Franklin Park on Monday morning. I'm sure the chief has heard about that already. And that was supposedly the result of an altercation, I don't know. But that said, you know, in this area there are a lot of poor people. You talked about the Central Union Mission having just moved to the old Gale school, which was just renovated. I should also point out that they got pushed out of Petworth. They got pushed out of the property they actually owned in Petworth and into NoMa. And so we're glad that NoMa literally welcomed them.
ERIC SHEPTAUKBut that said, there are probably about 2,000 of D.C.'s 7,000 homeless people right in this area. There's a great big shelter which his outside of NoMa which is the Federal City Shelter, also called CCMV, which has 1350 homeless people. But they're only a five-minute walk from where I now sit, you know.
ERIC SHEPTAUKAnd I also know that some businesses are actually using the police -- I won't call the name of the business -- but they're using the police to get the homeless out after the homeless have purchased food at the restaurant. You know, they give them five minutes to eat, even though the sign says 20 to 30 minutes and then they call the police to remove the homeless person, you know.
ERIC SHEPTAUKAnd so it's -- if you don't want the homeless person's business, don't let them buy food there, you know. And I'll finish with this by saying that if somebody contributes to the life of the city through their job, then the city should be affordable to them, and that the pricing of rental units should take into consideration who's working here. When you go to McDonald's two blocks away and you buy that dollar burger, you know, if you don't want that person to be able to afford to live in D.C., don't buy that burger from them. You're letting them contribute to the life of the city, but you aren't making life affordable for them.
NNAMDIEric Sheptauk is a homeless activist. And we should mention that during the course of the first hour in this broadcast, we talked about the economic gap in the city between the rich and the poor and the effect that that gap has on life in the city. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation on safety in Washington, D.C. Facilitating the conversation with us is Cathy Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. We're broadcasting from the headquarters of NPR on North Capitol Street in Washington. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Kojo in Your Community. We're coming to you from the headquarters of NPR on North Capitol Street in Washington with Cathy Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, with a studio audience here on hand, many of them with questions. You, ma'am, are next.
JESSICA HALLHi, I'm Jessica Hall. I'm a school teacher in this neighborhood at Two Rivers Public Charter School. And my comment will be brief. I'm really glad that you're here, Cathy Lanier, and we're talking about crime because it's just my belief that pushing people out of a neighborhood and making it so that they can't live there is a form of violence. So that being said, I believe that violence has gone up considerably.
NNAMDICathy Lanier, to what extent is the shifting population in D.C., the gap between rich and poor and the perception that a lot of poor people are being displaced by people who are more affluent, to what extent does that relate to crime in the district at all?
LANIERYou know, I don't think there's any way to really accurately study that and give you a really solid result. But I will tell you that -- and I've been policing over 24 years, so I've seen huge change and I've seen a lot of rapid change in the past ten years and the last five years, very rapid change. And so what I see is that, you know, there is significant change and not just, you know, racial demographics and economic demographics but in what used to be residential neighborhoods now becoming business communities. And what used to be business communities becoming residential neighborhoods.
LANIERAnd so all of those things cause changes in crime patterns and tensions among the communities. And the bigger tensions I see really are in the neighborhoods that either were not largely residential and now are becoming residential -- and I tell my favorite story about NoMa is -- you know, you've got the super club here that brings 13 or 1400 people on the weekends for large events. And you've got this nice hotel across the street. And when that super club lets out at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning and there's a lot of people, very loud. There's a lot of traffic. And the people, you know, in that nice hotel are complaining about, you know, the super club.
LANIERBut when that club went in this was an industrial area. There was no nice hotel there. So there's the tension that I see the most is condominiums going into areas that used to be largely commercial during the day and now are residential. And then, you know, the same on the other side. Businesses moving into communities that used to be residential. And there's a lot of tension there. If the businesses are not good neighbors to the longtime neighborhood, there's a lot of tension.
NNAMDIAnd the super club was here first. Yes, we have a question here. Go right ahead, please -- or comment.
MELYes, how you doing? Yes, my name is Mel. I'm a nurse up the street at Howard in the ER. My question relates to drug use in the community, and some of the legal -- or semi-legal drugs that we have in the community. I've seen over the past couple of years a number of varied drugs, like we have a lot of people using PCP, K2, Molly, that kind of thing.
MELSo I'm trying to see what the police are doing in terms of tackling those because there seems to be -- there is an interest -- there is a high interest by the police to pick up those people off the street and to have them get medical service. They usually pick them up from the street and that kind of -- for lack of a better term, they dump them in the hospital. But I'm trying to see if there is anything being done to rid of those things in the area.
LANIERWell, you rang up a few different drugs and they're all very different. K2 spice, which is sold at gas stations and variety stores around the city, is one of the ones that law enforcement's had a terrible challenge with because the manufacturers keep changing the chemical makeup of them slightly. So the federal register that makes the substance illegal, there's no way to know if what they're packaging is illegal or not until you test it.
LANIERSo by the time you test it and you wait for the lab results to come back, you know, the enforcement is null. We really have a zero enforcement ability. We do go and seize it. We try and get businesses to be good neighbors and not sell it because it has a terrible impact on our kids in particular that smoke it.
LANIERBut we talk about PCP. That's an extremely dangerous drug. And we did see a spike in PCP in 2008, 2009. We were able to work aggressively to go after PCP. This is not a -- you know, a very addictive drug but it's a very dangerous drug. So we work with our partners in the hospital associations and work with our partners in the community. And we try to increase treatment, and then conditions of release for people who were testing positive for PCP. Because you have to have some leverage to try and encourage people off of those drugs.
LANIERBut there are new challenges. That heroin that's been traveling all around the country and causing overdoses because of its potency, has reach Washington, D.C. now. So heroin, now extremely potent, causing a lot of overdoses, is traveling around the country, that's going to be our next big threat.
PENNYYes, my name is Miss Penny. I'd just like to ask you about the marijuana law and also about the people that are in jail now for marijuana. And can you just talk a little bit about will they be released or -- I mean, because they did pass the legislation about the marijuana.
NNAMDIReducing the penalties for it, yes.
LANIER...two things. One of -- the law has been -- is not passed yet. It has to be approved by congress, so it probably will not be in effect until July, September or somewhere around there, or the end of the summer, beginning of the fall. And it only decriminalizes less than an ounce for possession. It makes it a civil penalty of fine. And I can tell you -- and not only in this city but across America, very, very few people have spent time in jail for small or medium quantities of marijuana in a very, very long time.
LANIERAnybody that spends time in jail for marijuana probably had a pretty good quantity of marijuana, or was arrested for distribution or sale. Because it's not been a -- marijuana's not been one of those things that you saw lengthy jail terms for, at least not since I've been in policing here. But I will say that I don't see that -- people always ask me, you know, is this going to have a huge impact on the city? I don't think it's going to have a huge impact on the city. I don't think it's going to have a huge impact on crime.
LANIERThe one thing that worries us a little bit is people smoking and driving because driving under the influence of drugs is not much different than driving under the influence of alcohol. So it's kind of wait and see. But if you look across the United States, marijuana's becoming legal and decriminalized in many, many places.
NNAMDIIndeed I'd like to throw a question out to you, members of the audience. How do you feel about full scale pot legalization? It look as if there's going to be a measure on the ballot come the elections in November asking you to vote on that issue. So if there are any of you who would like to offer an opinion right now, please feel free to raise your hand. We do have one hand raised here.
AUDIENCE MEMBERI would say I'm all for it so long as any revenue that's produced as a result goes back into low-income at-risk communities and/or the development of affordable housing. And particularly with at-risk communities and youth development opportunities.
MEMBERThere are communities that have been absolutely decimated by very restrictive drug laws. This is a tremendous opportunity to lift them back up and restore what needs to be done.
LANIERWell, there's actually a study and Washington Lawyers Committee put out a study about the spared arrest for marijuana in Washington, D.C. And part of the study that they used to come up with those conclusions they didn't include in the report is exactly what you just said, is that the highest correlation between marijuana use and marijuana arrests is poverty and -- unemployment and education. And that's the single biggest connection between marijuana use and marijuana arrest in communities.
LANIERAnd as the police chief here, I can tell you, I get about 7,000 calls into our 911 center a year for drug complaints, open-air drug use in the vast majority of those calls. And I'd say 85 percent or more come from the communities east of the river. Because these are people who don't want their children walking to school and walking through a group of guys smoking marijuana.
LANIERSo there's a lot of things that go into it but you're right, I think unemployment, housing, affordable housing, all those things have a big impact on who uses drugs and who gets arrested for drugs.
NNAMDINext right here, sir.
DAVIDThanks. So my name is David and I live on Q Street which is right just north of here. I think that we're still in NoMa, but we're on the border of Eckington and NoMa. And I guess I just wanted to back up a little bit and just say that I think that our neighborhood is a really great one. And some of the contentiousness that has been talked about here today is not exactly reflective of our experience.
DAVIDIn terms of crime, I would say I generally feel pretty safe in the neighborhood. We've had a couple of attempted break-ins of some of our neighbors who are here tonight, but other neighbors on the block were looking out and actually helped stop those break-ins. I walk around at pretty much all hours and I think I'm pretty safe. I'm not on the phone, I'm looking out. So I guess I have a very positive image of the area and I don't know if that's been entirely reflected.
LANIERAnd Kojo, about the housing issue. You know, there is some positive trends that have happened too. You know, I think the whole housing complex, you know, the old public housing experiment was a bad experiment on the American people, clustering people in public housing complexes. And just clustering people in poverty in these horrible housing complexes across the United States in big cities was a bad idea to begin with.
LANIERAnd so they moved to Section 8 to allow people, regardless of income, to get support to live in different communities instead of clustering them in these public housing complexes. There's been a lot of that going on in the district here too. So while there's some bad trends, there are some very good things that are happening as well, allowing people to move out of those concentrated poverty areas and live like everybody else in a neighborhood that everybody else can live in.
LANIERSo there's people that feel both ways in housing complexes because, believe me, I talk to them in all of the complexes across the city, and I have for a long time. There are a lot of people that just wanted opportunities to live in different neighborhoods. They didn't want to be told what neighborhood they had to live in. And then the maintenance and upkeep of their communities was continued upon what, you know, the management of the complex felt was appropriate.
LANIERAnd if you -- I mean, I think if you walk -- go around in the city, especially ten years ago, and looked at the public housing complexes, they were not well maintained and they were not providing a nice environment for children to grow up in. The playgrounds were disrepaired and the children didn't have, you know, safe places to go and play. So there's people in those communities that feel both ways.
LANIERAnd I've heard people in those communities say, you know, I don't want to be told where I have to live. I want to have a choice. And there's thousands of people on the waiting list from public housing to go into Section 8 so that they can have a choice of where they live. I think people should have choices. They shouldn't be told where they have to live.
NNAMDIYou have a question or comment?
SARAHMy name is Sarah and I work in this neighbor as opposed to live here. And I guess I just wanted to say I also feel safe walking around here. At night, I'll walk over to Gallaudet and see something at the theater or I'll even just go up to the grocery store and buy groceries on my way home. But I have to say that in my office, the people who don't feel safe walking around this neighborhood or at least have the perception that they shouldn't feel safe walking around this neighborhood, they're not here in this room right now. It's after dark, it's after 8:00. They left.
SARAHSo you're dealing with a self-selected audience. What -- let's actually have the comment as to what you say to people who just, based purely on perception, it doesn't look like their suburban neighborhood, whatever it is...
NNAMDIThe taxi drivers who don't want to bring them here?
SARAHThe taxi drivers that don't want to commute, what do you say to those people? Because I've told them plenty of time that I have no issue. Oh yeah -- no, I walked down K Street. I saw Justice Sotomayor at the grocery store. I just -- but nobody believes me.
LANIERCan you imagine the comments I get? I mean, I've been here 24 years and I think this is a beautiful, wonderful, probably the most beautiful city in America. And it's a wonderful place. And people still have this perception...
LANIERThank you. And people have this perception that Washington, D.C. is just a bad place. And you just can't shake it. I mean, I wish I knew -- you should see my blood pressure going up while you're talking because I know. And I try my best to tell people that it's really -- Washington, D.C. is a wonderful city and it is a very safe city. I don't have an answer. I wish I did because I would use it.
NNAMDIReverend Greven Hagley, you're making me uncomfortable. You've been sitting here for a long time and you haven't said anything at all.
LANIERThat's not a good sign if the reverend makes you uncomfortable.
NNAMDIIt's not a good sign that he's not saying anything. So what are your thoughts about what we've been talking about so far, the relationship between poverty and crime or anything else?
REVEREND GREVEN HAGLEYWell, I mean, obviously there's been a serious -- I mean, somebody used the word misplacement. And that's what has happened is that a big segment of the population has been misplaced. I mean, we always joke that there's a Ward 9 that has been developed which is in Prince George's County where people have been forced to go.
HAGLEYRemoved basically from the communities. And so -- and with that we've also seen a decrease in crime rate in Washington, D.C. and an increase in what we characterize as Ward 9 today. I mean, so there's been a displacement rather than dealing with the whole kind of economic sociological arrangements that had existed in Washington D.C. I think the question about public housing is a very important one because it was designed to fail. It was designed to fail. It wasn't an accident that it failed. It was designed to fail.
HAGLEYAnd also taking people on low income and moving them in housing is designed to fail because that's why you've got a huge waiting list waiting for subsidy vouchers in order to get into housing.
NNAMDISo you don't think mixed income housing can succeed?
HAGLEYIt can succeed if it's done with...
LANIERIf there's enough of it.
HAGLEY...if it's done with a particular kind of deliberateness. But I think that what happens very often when we talk about mixed income is that you have low income families removed from the housing with the promise of returning when they develop the public housing as a mixed income use property. And they never ever get back home.
LANIERNow that is true. That is true. And I said, you know, there is good and bad that has happened here. And, you know, I cannot disagree with a reverend, but the crime is not up in Prince Georges County. And I get a little offended when people associate crime with just poverty and people that are poor. Poor people don't cause crime. In fact, poor people are most often the victims of crime. So I don't think...
LANIERThey are. Disproportionately they are the victims of crime. So I hear people say all the time that, you know, all the housing you notice that were left city and all these folks were pushed into Prince George's County (unintelligible) it's just not true. Prince Georges County's crime is down. Their crime has been down for several years in a row. But I do know that there were a lot of people that were displaced and here they were displaced not by their own choosing. And there were a lot of people displaced in the suburbs including Prince Georges County.
LANIERBut I just get a little uncomfortable when people want to blame all crime on people who are living in poverty or poor.
NNAMDIRishaun Baker says thanks by the way. And young lady, you have been waiting so long. Thank you for your patience. It's your turn.
RUMBIYAIThanks. I hope my question is worth the wait. My name is Rumbiyai. I actually live in Chinatown so in the neighborhood. But I don't have a car so I take public transit. I buy smart car, zip car, like many people in my cohort. And my question is, what steps does the city take in terms of preventative measures when neighborhoods are changing? So I'm thinking of low level violence, muggings. I'm thinking of in front of the McDonald's in Chinatown there's a huge gang of teenagers on the weekend. And sometimes incidents break out.
RUMBIYAIAnd I see that there is a police presence dressed in SWAT gear, which is -- makes me kind of uncomfortable. But I also know that there's a lot of private security cropping up in my neighborhood. And I wanted to know your thoughts on -- so the increase in private security and also what the city does ahead of time for perhaps bus stops along North Capitol that are going to become more and more popular as the neighborhood gets denser.
LANIEROkay. So first of all, they're not SWAT uniforms. They are mountain bike uniforms. Those officers have to ride mountain bikes so it's a different fabric and a different -- they have to have pockets because they're not in cars. So it looks like a SWAT uniform but it's a mountain bike uniform.
RUMBIYAISo it's still kind of scary.
LANIERAnd secondly, you know, we've learned a lot from Chinatown. And really the prevention activities that we do -- and we just had a crime projection brief out today -- we do projections quarterly that includes economic development. And for four hours today we sat and listened to the upcoming quarter projections that economic development will have on different communities. So the way that looks -- and I have two of the best district commanders in the city sitting here, Deidra Porter from 5D which is -- NoMa's part of and Jeff Brown from 1D which is also part of this neighborhood.
LANIERAnd what we present to them is, you know, if there's a new project breaking ground in your area this quarter, that means we need to make sure that we're not having construction sites burglarized and copper stolen and tools, you know, being stolen from the construction workers. If there's a new project coming online, so the construction's done and now a new nightlife area is going to open, then that brings a different set of challenges.
LANIERSo we try and be very proactive about deployments. Our nightlife areas -- we deployed 100 extra officers this year to nightlife areas that are specially trained in dealing with nightlife entertainment zones. So we try and be very proactive in trying to prevent the crime from starting to begin with. And development -- everything that you bring to a neighborhood regardless of what it is, big or small, is going to change crime patterns somewhat. So we try and analyze that and anticipate it to get ahead of it.
NNAMDIGot to take another short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation from the headquarters of NPR on North Capitol Street. This is Kojo in Your Community. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's "Kojo In Your Community" coming to you from the headquarters of NPR on North Capitol Street here in Washington, where we have a studio audience that is very engaged in this conversation with Chief Cathy Lanier of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. We'll go back to our audience. You, sir are next.
MEMBERI often witness prostitution activity at the corner of Second and K, usually under the railroad tracks, presumably because the lighting is good there. What does the -- what is the, you know, what do your officers do about that? And do you encourage me to do anything, such as give you a phone call, you know, rather than just cross the street, which is what I do now?
LANIERAw, shame on you. You know, prostitution is still illegal. It has changed -- the dynamics of prostitution has changed a lot. A lot of it now is what used to be in Washington D.C. and most major cities was a lot of street prostitution. It has now gone high-tech. So a lot of it is done via the Internet now in meeting spaces that are out of the view of the public. But there is still the prostitution that goes on on the street and it is still a crime. So we do have units that are, well, looking for two things: mainly human trafficking. We do have issues with human trafficking in this city.
LANIERIt's not as significant here as it is in some cities, Chicago. Just kidding. But so, yeah, I would say yes, call it in, because you never know. Just because a person is engaged in prostitution, that that is a willing choice by the person engaged in the prostitution.
NNAMDIWhich communities in this neighborhood do you think or do you find are the most vulnerable to crime? What do you think police should be doing or could be doing to protect those vulnerable communities? Just throwing that out in case anybody wants to address it. But there are other people who have their hands up. You, ma'am, next.
SABIAHi, thank you. Good evening. My name is Sabia Prince (sp?). I'm a native Washingtonian. I'm an anthropologist. I'm the author of "African-Americans Injunctification (sp?) in Washington D.C." And the...
NNAMDIAnd now you speak up, when we've only got 10 minutes left?
SABIAI know, I know. I know, the other comments were so great I didn't have a chance to jump in. But as a part of writing my book, I collected oral history and other interview data and survey data and focus group data on approximately 100 African-Americans. And the -- partly what I heard, people who were reflecting on the '80s, they talked about the lack of response that they got from the police when communities were still predominantly working class. People talked to me about making phone calls, trying to get the police to intervene, do something about drug dealing that was taking place in their communities.
SABIAAnd one of the complaints they made to me was that they felt that now that communities are changing, that there's a greater response, greater concern, greater emphasis on safety, when you have more upper-income people coming in. So I'm wondering how can you -- how would you respond to that concern and that accusation?
LANIERIt could be a better police chief. I'm just kidding. I'm kidding. Well, I mean...
NNAMDIHave police responses changed as this community has become whiter and more affluent?
LANIERWell, I mean, to be fair, our response across the city -- some of our best response times are in Anacostia. So our response on -- first of all, I think leadership is an important role -- managers out there in the field, the district commanders that are sitting here today, the supervisors. But technology has improved tremendously since the '80s. And service had better be much better by policy. That's what I -- I tell you, I started here in 1990, and the tools we were working with then was just one step above a slate and chisel.
LANIERAnd now we are the most technologically advanced police department in the country. Our response time to calls for service in every area of Washington D.C. for priority ones is about five minutes, which is better than the national average by a couple of minutes. So -- and I expect that, in most major cities, I expect good service in every area of my city. And I have the technology that I've invested in so my officers can respond rapidly and effectively and efficiently in every neighborhood, regardless of where you are. And that better be the case.
LANIERThere should never be -- there should not be any neighborhoods now that has a response like what we had in the '80s, because we didn't have technology, we didn't have the means, and we were fighting, you know, really a very different culture of policing, too.
NNAMDISometimes it's too quick. This morning, I accidentally set off the alarm at my house and almost got arrested going out my front door.
ALVINHi, Chief. How are you doing? My name is Alvin Judd. I'm one of the commissioners 6E. And I want to give you -- your officers are doing a great job in 5 and 6 as far as response and being present in the area. And at the safety meetings, when we give them the information they need, and they have been...
NNAMDIDon't praise her too much.
LANIERWait a minute. Your 5D commander is sitting right behind you and she's all smiles.
ALVINYeah. Yeah, I got the 5D and 6, too, both of them are doing a great job.
ALVINAnd we bring all the issues to them. And like we had a issue about the gas laying around, and they addressed, because a senior citizen complained about it and stuff like that. And another thing is as far as seeing those guys on the bikes and walking the beats, they're doing a very good job with the community. They've been coming to our meetings, addressing all the issues in the area. And they make it a better place and people are more open-arms to them, because they're doing a great job.
LANIERYou've got some of the best mountain-bike officer teams in your area. They are very good. I hear compliments all the time.
NNAMDIWhere are the disgruntled people? Sir, you're next.
LANIERCome on, Kojo. Give me a break.
NNAMDIYou, sir, are next.
MEMBERHi, I live in Carver Langston, where the median income is $26,000. And in this discussion, in the last hour to two hours, I've heard a lot of language like: oh, they won't give us any money to start businesses; or they are ignoring us; or when you push people -- when you guys push people out. And my comment is, for every one developer, there are 100 people, probably like me, who just want to buy a place and make a better life for themselves. And Carver Langston is the only place I can afford. My neighbor is also -- he's an immigrant and he's buying his first home and he is putting a lot of money into making it better.
MEMBERSo I think we're kind of forgetting the human face on the issue. And we all want to be part of the community. There's -- we're cleaning up the neighborhood from trash. There's a lot of activities that we're participating in the neighborhood. But...
NNAMDIDo you feel as if, because you're new here, you're in a way being attacked?
MEMBERNo, it's not as being attacked. But I feel like I want to be -- I would desperately want to be a good community member. And I want to be a good person. And when I'm here, it's like, oh, I could look in the mirror and like, wow, I'm a bad guy. You know? I mean is that really the case, despite what I'm trying to do?
NNAMDINo. I think what you've been hearing are people who are saying that there are people who are being displaced and left out of conversations. That they are not necessarily blaming the new residents, they are blaming to a large extent developers and the government for not having them engage in the community. If you are expressing the kind of interest that you apparently are, there are a variety of organizations represented here this evening that would be welcome to have you participate in them.
ERICOkay. So awhile ago, the Chief referenced the public housing and the disrepair of the public housing as a reason as to why these are such terrible neighborhoods. Now let me remind everybody that the disrepair of the public housing is the new redlining. It's not -- it's not the banks doing the redlining anymore. It's now our government disinvesting. I also want to say that there are some mixed-income buildings around the city. There was an article last year that said that there are landlords who are taking care of the high-end units in their mixed-income buildings and they're ignoring the low-end units in the very same building.
NNAMDIBecause they want to get those people out.
ERICRight. Right. Exactly. And the final thing I'll say is that I used to work in Trinidad a few years ago, back in 2009. And there was a day that I happened upon a person lying on the road right next to the curb. Turns out he had been smoking a dipper, you know a cigarette dipped in PCP. I called 911 and I asked for an ambulance. Five minutes later, there's five bike cops coming. It took 10 more minutes for the ambulance to get there.
NNAMDIWell, that's some comment on the comparison of services between the police department and the fire department. I don't know if you want to comment on that, Chief. But we have another question or comment in the rear.
MEMBERYeah. Thanks. This has been a great discussion. My -- I've been a D.C. resident for five years and I largely feel very safe walking around, you know, all hours of the night. One thing that doesn't make me feel safe is the issue of street harassment, which I think is kind of a problem that a lot cities experience. And I'm just curious if you, Chief, have anything to say about that? How that can be combated. I know that that's a problem that mostly women experience. But that's something that definitely both a quality-of-life issue and a public-safety issue in my opinion.
NNAMDIAnd something women in Washington have been complaining about for all of the four decades that I've been here.
LANIERWell, you know, and unfortunately, and that's a challenge that we face. Oftentimes, we find ourselves called to calls -- people summoning police to deal with bad behavior. And really, while -- and I tell people this all the time, why I have a theory about police officers working in schools -- so bad behavior is, you know, not a police issue. Yes, we should be making people feel safe. We shouldn't allow people to be harassed. And the challenge for us is -- in the schools in particular is, principals set the code of conduct and the standard for what's acceptable in the school environment.
LANIERThere are security guards that physically secure the building to make sure nobody walks in with a weapon. And if you call the police, I'm coming there to deal with a crime, because there are crimes happening in the city and we deal with it. So we try and mediate. We try and work on those bad behavior issues in communities. And oftentimes, we walk away being the bad guys -- both sides mad at us. One, because why are the police involved? I didn't commit a crime. And, two, because I really didn't solve the bad behavior problem.
LANIERSo it's a really tough issue for us to deal with, just people who are rude, bad behavior people.
NNAMDIAnd would you identify yourself so that everyone here would know who you are?
DEIDRECommander Deidre Porter of the 5th District.
NNAMDISo now you know her. Okay? She's who you need to go to. There is -- here you go, sir.
MEMBERYeah, I just want to ask the Chief a question. We have a couple anthropologists in the room and there are a lot of social science and public health scholars who have been dealing with issues, not only of homicides imbalance, but drugs, et cetera. And I wondered to what degree has your department reached out to create a task force or to create -- or to invite scholars to come in and work with you around some of the policy interventions. I know, as a former police officer, my chief of police would talk about community policing all the time.
MEMBERAnd that was just us getting out of the patrol car and walking the beat. But in terms of substantive involvement of social scientists, to what degree does your department do it or, and if you don't, would you consider it as a suggestion.
LANIERYes. I mean we do work with universities and some of the think tanks. And they are looking for us to give them things to work on with us. I try to create somewhat of that capability inside the police department. I have almost 500 civilian employees and I have invested heavily in very, very smart analysts. And our economic development studies that have been done by our internal analysts has been extremely helpful to us. So I think there is an academic -- a very strong component -- a need in public safety for academic things to be done and measures to be done on different programs to really measure real effectiveness of programs.
LANIERBut there's also -- police departments need to have an internal capability to evaluate their own performance. And, you know, evidence-based policing is kind of a, you know, a common sense idea. And you have to have your own capabilities to do that. So I think it's a mix of both.
NNAMDIYou get to be the last speaker.
MICHELEOh, terrific. My name's Michele Higgs and I'm with the Perry Center right around the corner. And I wanted to make a comment that follows on from a couple of earlier comments about the people in this area. I look in the faces of these people every day. And by these people, I mean young, low-income people, who have no hope. We spoke earlier about these young folks not -- well, people not voting. I spoke with a young lady one day who said; you know, what's the point? It's not going to help us. Nobody's going to pay attention.
MICHELEAnd when we talk about NoMa having a new name, it's very trendy. I happen to have gone to NYU. When I was a student, I couldn't go to SoHo or TriBeCa. They were fancy names for lovely areas. That's what NoMa is looking like to me now. I'm a native Washingtonian, born and raised up in Northwest Washington. And I see these changes coming. And I see how they're coming over the bodies of the people that were born and raised here and the young folks that are living here, who don't see a future for them as they're being moved out of the district, as they're having properties built that they can't move back into.
MICHELEAnd they're losing hope. And they're getting angry. And that, I think, is what the basis of the crime that we have. I went to a Mayor's task force, I think back in November, and I was astounded at the knowledge that these young people or quote, unquote, "knowledge" that these young people have about drugs and, you know, what's coming out, what's new and what's fancy, and how to get things past their parents. And to one more point, with the Perry Center, we are panting for volunteers.
MICHELESo, if you're interested in helping some of these young people, helping them get some ideas about getting their GEDs, how to move forward, come see us.
NNAMDIChief Lanier, any final comments?
LANIERNo, I think, good -- first of all, I wouldn't disagree with anything that you had to say as well. I think everybody in here has raised valid points. Washington D.C. is a great city. And there is very, very good people here that have been here a very, very long time. And there's new things coming into the city as well. And it's a period of transition. It may be several more years before the transition settles. But if everybody really works at it together and people aren't left behind, I think we have one of the greatest cities in America here. And we can keep it that way. So...
NNAMDICathy Lanier is the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us.
LANIERThank you for having me.
NNAMDII'd like to thank everyone who made this "Kojo In Your Community" possible. And the people who made it possible the most were you -- those of you who decided to come here tonight. So before we go any farther, please give yourselves a warm round of applause.
NNAMDIYou are who make Washington beautiful. Special thanks to our hosts for this broadcast here at NPR, including Sy Sykes, Joe Hagen, Justin Wynne and the great tech staff, Neil Tevault, Andy Huether and Michael Beacom. I'd also like to thank Mark McDonald and Lettie Holman of WAMU 88.5. The production team here tonight, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Kathy Goldgeier, Tayla Burney, Elizabeth Weinstein and Stephannie Stokes, Jonathan Charry, Karen Munson, Kathleen Allenbaugh, Benae Mosby, Kara Merrigan, Monica Arpino, Cliff Gallagher, Kellen Quigley, James Zelaska, Liam Sullivan, along with help from Dante Webster, Nancy Gius and Anthony Washington, and of course our wonderful volunteers.
NNAMDIThis has been "Kojo In Your Community," from NPR's headquarters in the NoMa District of D.C., I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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