- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Metropolitan Police Department said Wednesday that it will take the drastic step of restricting access to some 5th District neighborhoods to curb the unchecked violence that has resulted in 14 killings in that area since April.

Under the Neighborhood Safety Zones program, motorists will be required to show identification and explain to police their reason for being in the area before entering designated two- to three-block zones that have experienced high crime.

Civil rights groups, lawmakers and residents fear the move is another step toward creating a police state in the District, but city officials said they have covered all the legal bases.

“It’s not going to be random,” said D.C. interim Attorney General Peter J. Nickles. “We’re not picking on people. I don’t anticipate [a lawsuit]. But if somebody wants to sue, the courthouse is open.”

Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the plan, which will be enacted by an executive order, is illegal and susceptible to abuse.

“I support increased police presence to reduce crime, but to stop innocent people, require identification, and require everyone to explain themselves is unlawful,” said Mr. Mendelson, who head’s the Council’s public safety committee.

Harry Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat.

Under the program, the zones will be in effect for up to 10 days and pedestrians will not be questioned.

The first zone will be set up Saturday. Police did not provide details on where it will be or when the restrictions would go into effect, but a spokeswoman said one of the zones will be on the 1400 block of Montello Avenue.

Chief Lanier said a significant number of the shootings in the recent crime spike in the 5th District were committed in stolen vehicles.

So far this year, 22 homicides have been reported in the 5th District, one more than all of last year, according to the police department. The 5th District also accounts for one-third of the city’s 72 homicides so far in 2008.

Chief Lanier said that the safe zones are less restrictive than drug-free zones, which allow police to disperse as few as two people seen congregating, and that residents shouldn’t criticize them without looking at similar checkpoints set up for special events such as protests.

Neighborhood checkpoints have been used in Boston.

The program drew criticism from the Mr. Fenty over other new public-safety programs.

“It’s not just pushing the envelope, it’s carrying the envelope,” said Steve Block. “We expect that once the first people are arrested or turned away, they’re going to come knocking on our door and there will be a lawsuit.”

This year lawmakers and civil rights groups have voiced strong concerns about a plan to consolidate the city’s 5,200 closed-circuit cameras on a single network, issuing assault rifles to patrol officers, and an initiative by police to ask residents if they can search their homes for illegal weapons.

Residents on Wednesday gave mixed reactions to the most recent plan, saying they want to see the police engage community members more often.

“It’s something, it’s better than nothing,” said Thalia Wiggins, 24, a resident of Trinidad. “If you’re not doing anything wrong then you shouldn’t be upset about it.”

A group of Trinidad residents who declined to give their names said they want to see police walking the block and talking with residents rather than questioning law-abiding citizens.

“Back in the old days police knew everyone,” one man said. “And they knew everybody that was doing something wrong.”

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