A decade ago, folks used to call this neighborhood the wild, wild west,” said Alexander Padro, who has represented Shaw as an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 19 years. “We thought those days were over. But now I have lifelong neighborhood residents telling me they’re afraid to set foot outside their homes, others upset about bullet holes in their upper story apartment windows and business owners telling me they haven’t seen a police officer on foot all year. People feel unsafe.”
On Sunday night, Sept. 29, a man was fatally shot in an exchange of gunfire at Seventh and S streets NW, marking the beginning of a public safety crisis in Shaw. Security camera footage of the shooting ran repeatedly on every television news program the next day. The following Saturday night saw two people wounded from gunfire on the 1700 block of Seventh Street, followed by a teenaged girl shot on Sunday afternoon on P Street at City Market at O and a Sunday night incident with occupants of speeding cars on Sixth Street shooting at each other.
The combination of incidents rattled the community. Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6E, which has most of central Shaw in its jurisdiction, called an emergency meeting on Oct. 9 at the Watha T. Daniel Library, with a follow-up meeting the next night at United House of Prayer on Seventh Street.
The crowd for the Oct. 9 emergency meeting filled the room in the basement of the library, with the overflow spilling out into the hallway and up the stairs.
Lamar Greene, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) patrol chief, Patrol Services North, offered an overview of the citywide crime situation. The District’s population has increased by 100,000 people over the past 10 years, with requests for police services going up by 120,000 calls. Overall, violent crimes have gone down, but there has been an increase in the most serious ones. So far this year, there have been 131 homicides, and robberies were also up.
When the police go over criminal incidents every week, the same names come up over and over again because, despite arrests, judges are not sentencing offenders to significant jail time. The result is that offenders do not fear arrest. “I don’t think that we have effective punishments or effective options to change these folks’ behavior,” Greene said.
Exacerbating the situation, Greene noted that the sentencing commission is actually reducing firearms violation penalties. The District’s Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act reduces penalties for very violent offenses; and the DC Council rejected Mayor Bowser’s fiscal year 2020 budget request for 200 new police officers, who would be exclusively on foot patrol. Greene suggested creating community teams to hold the entire District’s criminal justice system accountable.
Third District Commander Stuart Emerman gave an update on the situation in ANC 6E, including a homicide at the edge of 6E and three other shooting incidents, all still under investigation. He stated that MPD had gotten approval for overtime to deploy more officers in the area, the 3D Crime Suppression Team had also been working in Shaw and a temporary police camera was placed at Seventh and S streets. The commander encouraged the installation of more private cameras in the neighborhood.
But, although there were 21 arrests for guns in the area this year, only one of the offenders is still in jail. “The fear of the judicial system is not there,” Emerman observed.
Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen, who is chair of the council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said that he had seen more of a police presence on the street lately. One problem with officer retention had been a retirement bubble, which he believes is over now. Allen has asked the Office of Neighborhood Safety to look at violence-prevention programs for Shaw.
Comments started with Padro, who observed that over his nearly two decades as a commissioner, the most effective tactic had been to field foot patrol officers with a single beat. Padro concluded, “This sense of lawlessness [in the neighborhood] has to be brought under control. We have done it before and can do it again.”
Commissioner Rachelle Nigro seconded the push for foot patrols, adding that one of her constituents had been threatened by after hours trespassers at the Kennedy Recreation Center. Council member Allen noted that when he asked the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to address mobs conducting open air parties on the sidewalk outside the recreation center, the response was that they could not do it with their limited staff. Nigro said that the people at DPR need to be fired, drawing applause from the audience.
ANC Chair Alex Marriott concluded that the issues came down to the need for more foot patrols and violence-prevention efforts.
The Central Shaw Neighborhood Association convened a follow-up meeting on crime in Shaw on Oct. 21 at New Bethel Baptist Church. After church pastor Reverend Dexter Nutall welcomed the crowd of 50 to the church, Council member Allen spoke briefly. He said that he wanted to address the roots of violence in the community. The city had done violence interruption but had stopped until recently. Allen is trying to develop a neighborhood working group on crime issues.
Third District Commander Emerman announced that Shaw will be part of the District’s Fall Crime Initiative, which provides additional police resources. The effort will be led by 3D Captain Han Kim.
Anita Laroue, the US Attorney’s prosecutor assigned to the Third District, mentioned that the US Attorney, in almost every weapons violation case, asks for the person to be held in jail, but judges do not always agree to the request.
Mayor’s Public Safety Walk
A large contingent of District officials and neighborhood residents gathered in the Progression Place plaza at Seventh and S streets NW on Wednesday, Oct. 23, for a Public Safety Walk with Mayor Muriel Bowser. Cabinet members came to help address issues encountered on the walk that could improve public safety in Shaw and Logan Circle. Commander Emerman announced the arrest of two drug dealers on the 1900 block of Seventh Street. Then the crowd moved down Seventh Street and later turned west toward Logan Circle, stopping to meet with concerned residents and business and daycare-center owners. Vacant lots, homeless encampments and alleys and sidewalks in disrepair were among the items noted for attention.
Business Owners and Community Leaders Remain Concerned
Following a shooting on the 2000 block of Eighth Street NW on Nov. 1, Eric Heidenberger, one of the owners of Shaw’s Tavern and 801 Restaurant and Bar, observed that “this has really gone too far and the crime in Shaw is more than concerning. Our sales have dropped significantly, my staff is concerned for their safety. We had another shooting steps from one of our businesses last night. My general manager had to tell guests to hide behind walls as loud gunshots rang out just feet away.”
The bar owner’s brother and business partner, Alex Heidenberger, added regarding the shootings, “Most of these seem to begin with petty personal arguments that quickly escalate to a gun being drawn.” On a brighter note, Eric Heidenberger noted, “We have noticed an increase in foot patrol and bike officers. MPD presence is and will always be a reassuring sign to our staff and the neighborhood.”
Commissioner Padro is also encouraged by increased police visibility in the neighborhood. “But what happens once the shootings stop? If we don’t see dedicated foot patrol officers back on the street every day, it’s only a matter of time before we’re back at the OK Corral.”