The Beat Goes On
The Police and the Neighbors: Community Policing Today
“It’s nice that people here give you a five-finger salute,” said Officer Christian Deruvo of the Metropolitan Police Department, as he referred to the less than welcoming one-finger salute cops might get in other neighborhoods.
Deruvo was with an impressive rank and file of MPD officers as well as neighborhood and business leaders during a public safety meeting at Dumbarton House June 25. On display was the special relationship that the police and residents enjoy. The room was full, and there were nine cops, all totaled, with Assistant Chief Diane Groomes heading up the panel.
The community discussion ranged from sexual assaults, home invasions, theft from autos, shoplifting, security cameras on the street and for the home, as well as body cameras for MPD officers. Also discussed were hold-ups at the 7-Eleven, a car jacking on P Street, and how to secure scooters. Also brought up was where smoking marijuana is legal or not. Briefly discussed were new social media apps and websites that can get more people involved as the eyes and ear of the police, such as GroupMe or NextDoor.com.
“We can solve crimes together,” said MPD Officer Antonial Atkins, who attended the meeting despite being on vacation. He likes to hand out water on hot days, simply to get to meet people around Georgetown and gain trust. “Get to know your neighbors,” Atkins said. One of his inspirations for community policing, he said, came from watching reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show,” in which everyone in town knew each other.
At the same time, Atkins is a big supporter of using social media and other technologies to connect the citizens and the police. “Cameras help,” he said. He has taken the lead on GroupMe with the business community. Nevertheless, when confronted with a crime, he cautioned, “Call 911 first.”
At the meeting, Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans gave a brief history lesson of policing in D.C. and nationwide. “Community policing came back in the 1990s,” he said, after the years when cops simply drove around in their cars and reacted to crime.
Georgetown, part of Ward 2, is also part of the MPD’s Second District, which stretches from the White House, northwest to the Maryland state line on Western Avenue. Neighborhood leaders can list several of those who have headed up the police district, such as Andy Solberg, Peter Newsham and Patrick Burke.
On hand was the Second District Commander Melvin Gresham, a 30-year veteran of the force, who took over from Michael Reese in March. Reese, known for his hands-on and strategic approach to crime prevention with the neighborhoods of his district, was an example of how MPD tries to operate across the city. Gresham continues that effort.
During the meeting, Gresham said crime was down 29 percent down from last year — which in Georgetown means mostly retail and thefts from autos. Lt. Roland Hoyle, who heads the Georgetown patrol area, known as PS206, said that crime was on the decrease (“two robberies in 30 days”).
While the so-called “Georgetown cuddler” is no more, sexual violence continues. Groomes commented on the police’s combatting sexual assaults: “We work closely with Georgetown University and George Washington University.”
Several preventative measures include cameras and mobile group apps. Also involved with the Citizens Association of Georgetown, Jim Wilcox of the Georgetown Business Association wants to expand GroupMe into the residential neighborhood. Currently, the app’s usage is 80 percent on business and 20 percent in the neighborhood.
Chip Dent, also of the GBA, talked about street cameras, especially the one on Wisconsin Avenue and P Street. A lot of crime can happen, he said, “near P and Q. It is less congested than M Street and easy to get away by car.” Along with Rich Lanza and David Sealock, representatives of M.C. Dean, which has donated its products and services to the Citizen Association, Dent said that home cameras help a lot to prevent crime — or at least identify a suspect. There are home camera systems that cost $1,000. (M.C. Dean has installed at least four cameras in Georgetown for CAG over the last six years, and does the maintenance as well. Company CEO Bill Dean has pledged money to install three more cameras in Georgetown in the near future.)
Crime on the east side of Georgetown increased with the reconstruction of Rose Park: cars were broken into Super Bowl Sunday night. With park lights cut off by a contractor’s mistake, MPD quickly moved in and provided mobile lights along the park’s paths.
“If it happens to you, it’s a crime wave,” said Ed Solomon, a Georgetown-Burleith advisory neighborhood commissioner. Another commissioner, Monica Roache, and Solomon, along with the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the Georgetown Business Association, helped coordinate the meeting.
“People have to remember that we live in a city,” Solomon said. “Be aware of your surroundings.”
There’s a trust between MPD and the community, Solomon added. “Senior cops bring the young ones along. They don’t give off a police face.”
As it turns out, robberies in the Second District have risen since that meeting on Dumbarton House. For example, last week, there were street robberies in Chevy Chase, D.C. – a rare occurrence at any time. There was a mugging in front of Blessed Sacrament Church on Western Avenue.
An MPD “Officer of the Year,” Atkins summed up how a community can “take a bite out of crime,"” to quote McGruff the Crime Dog on crime awareness and prevention.
Atkins talked about neighbors who lived on the same street for more than 10 years and did not know each other. One resident thought someone was breaking into the house next door. It was his neighbor, not a burglar, and it took a cop to know the difference. And it takes someone like Atkins to know the neighborhood better than most of its neighbors.