Letter: Restore Community Policing

Letter: Restore Community Policing

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The recent homicide of Shakkan Elliot-Tibbs at the Andrew Adkins public housing project one block from Braddock Metro is a tragedy for his family and friends. But in a sense it was also a death foretold.

For 18 months, neighbors in West Old Town have been calling police to report gunshots — sometimes on successive nights. The level and frequency of gunplay now exceeds anything heard in this neighborhood and borders on the unprecedented. Yet the Police Department’s response till now has been inadequate. Even at Monday night’s overflow community meeting, the Alexandria police claimed there was no change in the level of shots fired reports between 2014 and 2015. The problem, however, started in 2014 and shows no improvement since then.

Neighbors are hearing gunfire and calling in reports in real time, just as police urge. The eNews releases about the possibility of firecrackers the week before the murder discouraged and annoyed many. West Old Town has a large contingent of military personnel who understand firearms and know the distinctive sound. Callers are also troubled by omissions and inconsistencies in eNews reporting on these incidents.

The neighborhood is fed up with excuses. Police Chief Earl Cook’s hastily-organized community walk the week before the murder was simply a PR effort in the eyes of many here. It is also repugnant to tell residents that when victims and perpetrators know each other, there’s nothing to worry about — as though bullets don’t have the potential to go astray and hit bystanders, as recently happened in Southeast D.C.

Community policing as successfully practiced in this area in the past has atrophied and must be beefed up again. True community policing means giving cops the time and resources to intimately know the neighborhood and its residents, instilling familiarity and trust and thereby gaining strategic intelligence about community dynamics. Instead, the number of police in the community cops program has dwindled over the years and law enforcement officers are routinely pulled out for other duties elsewhere. What the community is given instead are a few days of ostentatious police cars patrols, usually immediately before or after public meetings, which then fade away.

City Council and especially the ARHA board are not off the hook either. The concentration of public housing at Braddock Road Metro and council’s retreat from a scattered site policy means city leaders are deliberately perpetuating socio-architectural magnets for bad behavior. With new construction at Metro, there are more “eyes on the street” than ever, but what has been gained? There have been a number of homicides at Adkins and its environs in recent years.

Council has also given ARHA carte blanche to expand its holdings within the Braddock Metro area, with the acquisition of new properties like Pendleton Park, where last year police were witnessed in broad daylight bearing drawn shotguns. There has also been construction of massive new public housing buildings along Route 1, which may soon include the otherwise peaceful Ramsay Homes.

ARHA CEO Roy Priest has recently stated that conditions at Jefferson Village (now Princess Square) had been improved by retenanting (i.e., evictions), thus confirming that ARHA and its board are not powerless with regard to the peace and quietude of its properties. But at Monday night’s meeting we heard an ARHA resident criticize the authority’s management for its unresponsiveness to her concerns.

In the last 30 years, the West Old Town Citizens Association has worked more closely with and been more supportive of the Police Department than almost any other civic group in Alexandria. Now we ask for new approaches and fresh thinking. The police need to restore real community policing, explore technology such as security cameras, establish neighborhood watches in ARHA developments, and (for council and ARHA) return to the scattered public housing strategy when ARHA properties come up for redevelopment in the next few years.

West Old Town Citizens Association Executive Board

Leslie Zupan, Keil Gentry, Peter Prahar, Heidi Ford, and Donna Reuss