- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Citing a rise in police response times in busy districts and a boom of economic growth leading to new crime patterns in the District, the Metropolitan Police Department is redrawing its police district boundaries.

The changes are expected to more evenly distribute the number of calls for service and crimes reported among the city’s seven police districts, Chief Cathy L. Lanier said.

“My goal is to make sure everyone in the city continues to get police service they are happy with,” Chief Lanier told a group of residents at a public meeting about the plan at the 3rd District station.

Over the past eight months, Chief Lanier said, an increasing number of 911 calls had to be placed on hold while officers were busy clearing other calls. The zero to two calls the department typically would have on hold at any given time have on occasion ballooned into the double digits.

“Our response times are starting to suffer in some areas of the city specifically,” Chief Lanier said at the public forum last week.

Asked about the increases, police could not immediately provide statistics on response times.

Though opposition to the seven realignment plans released last week has been minimal compared with divisive battles over ward redistricting, residents are beginning to weigh in on the proposals.

Among the changes to the 3rd District, which includes Adams Morgan and U Street territory, is the shedding of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood as it is passed to the 4th District to the north. The shift drew ire from D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, who said he did not want his ward split between two police districts as it was before the last major boundary realignment in 2004.

“It was a huge problem over confusion,” Mr. Graham said. “It took me years to get this straightened out.”

Under the plan, the 3rd District also would acquire neighborhoods to the northeast of Dupont Circle from the 2nd District, placing a larger buffer around the 3rd District headquarters, which currently sits on the border of the two districts.

“You are going to disconnect us from the people we deal with on a daily basis,” said Tom Coumaris, who supports the current police boundaries that place his home in the 2nd District.

With major nightlife corridors such as U Street and Adams Morgan drawing police patrols in the 3rd District, Mr. Coumaris said, he found it difficult to get a quick police response when he lived in that district.

LeDroit Park resident Jana Baldwin said she also had seen the nightlife corridors siphon police officers away from her neighborhood, but that was why she was elated to see the new police service area, or PSA, boundaries put her home in a different beat than the bustling section of U Street.

While the changes to the police district boundaries are pretty much set, the changes to the PSAs within each district are still open for negotiation, Chief Lanier said. However, the final changes will have to be approved by the D.C. Council, Mr. Graham said, noting that he will vote against the plan in its current form.

Under the current boundaries, officers in the 3rd District handle 16.7 percent of the city’s crime — the highest percentage of any of the districts, according to Metropolitan Police Department crime statistics. Meanwhile, the 4th District handles the lowest percentage of crime — at 10.2 percent. Under the realignment plan, each district would handle between 12.8 percent and 15.5 percent of the city’s crime.

The last time police districts were realigned was in 2004, when the number of PSAs was cut in half. Police service areas are smaller patrol areas within each police district. The new realignment will add 10 PSAs, bringing the total number to 56.

Police union Chairman Kristopher Baumann expressed concern over the addition of PSAs. He wondered whether they would require more administrative staff and take officers off the street.

“The PSAs that we have now have never been fully staffed, and we have not been at that level for some time,” Mr. Baumann said in an interview. “Given we are 400 officers down, how are these PSAs going to be properly staffed?”

“Super PSAs,” which require several lieutenants and sergeants to staff, will be eliminated under the plan and broken into smaller PSAs that will require the same total number of officers, Chief Lanier said. Although officers will be reshuffled, “we won’t have to promote new people.”

Where boundaries change, the department plans to keep the officers who have covered those beats in the neighborhoods they are familiar with to maintain good community relations, the chief added.

Among other changes in the realignment are the 4th District’s expansion to take over coverage of the Washington Hospital Center campus from the 5th District. The Kingman Park neighborhood will be shifted from the 1st District to the 5th, a portion of the Fairlawn neighborhood will transfer from the 6th to the 7th District, and the White House and a portion of the Mall will be transferred from the 1st to the 2nd District.

The next two boundary meetings are scheduled for the 6th District on Wednesday and the 4th District on Thursday.