- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

In her 19 years of patrolling the District's streets for the Metropolitan Police Department, Sgt. Gwendolyn Elaine Mapp says she never faced "real fear" as she did on the day of the International Monetary Fund protest.
Neither the drug raid where she was positioned to bust down the door; nor the car chase across the Southwest Freeway "with bullets flying everywhere"; nor her rookie training on the "prostitution and perversion" detail scared her as much as the defining moment when she was on the front line with fellow 1st District officers assigned to "hold the perimeter line" against the "sea of people coming at us" at 17th and I streets NW.
Then a master patrol officer, Sgt. Mapp glanced behind her and saw a line of canine officers, then a line of motorcycle officers behind them, then another line of patrol officers behind them.
"Oh, my peripheral vision caught that line behind me, and they looked so good, girl, my chest got big, and my peacock feathers came out and my heart felt at ease," she said. "And, backed down."
Sgt. Mapp contends that the IMF protests "changed everything for us that day. Not only did we show America we could do a damn good job, we also showed ourselves. It gave us back our pride."
Not only did MPD's success that day "reinforce us, it reinforced me," said Sgt. Mapp, 43, during an interview at her Southwest condominium, which is dotted with congratulatory gifts to celebrate her recent promotion.
Sgt. Mapp known as Gwen to friends and Elaine to family was one of 28 members of the force who were promoted in a ceremony Friday afternoon at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She had not felt the same teary-eyed pride since she uttered the police oath in 1983.
"I'm excited. I hope I'll be the kind of supervisor that can instill that kind of pride and respect on the job," said Sgt. Mapp, who starts her assignment in the 2nd District today.
Shortly before the IMF protest, Sgt. Mapp said her morale was low because she was questioning her effectiveness. For the second time in her career, she considered changing course.
Instead, she decided to rise to the occasion and rise through the ranks. As a sergeant, she wants to play a more significant role in what she views as a rejuvenated police department.
"Now I have a say in that direction," she said, a say that will help the force return to its glory days when she was a rookie.
Good news, considering that yesterday the New York Times reported that urban police departments across the country are facing a personnel crisis because of a record shortage of recruits. Big city police departments are also losing officers who are resigning to take higher-paying jobs in suburban districts or private industry or retiring rather than be promoted to sergeants, lieutenants or even police chiefs.
In addition to low pay and long hours, the police personnel situation is not helped by the number of departments that are under federal investigation not unlike Prince George's County because of accusations of police brutality and racial profiling.
Those problems are of little personal concern to Sgt. Mapp because, she says, "I treat everybody with respect, the way I want my momma treated."
Sgt. Mapp discovered she had a knack for community policing before it became a political buzzword. "People used to always tell me that I should have been a social worker instead of a police officer," she admits.
That's because she developed a reputation for taking lengthy interviews and showing too much compassion.
"I always believe it makes more sense to go to the same person's house once or twice rather than 10 times," she said. If she could determine the underlying causes of a police call for a family that fights every Friday night, for example, and refer them to appropriate agencies or social service organizations, the larger problem might be solved. It's usually not a police problem, anyway, she said.
To illustrate her point, she noted that the frequent calls from an elderly lady stopped once she started making regular visits just to talk to the lonely woman.
"Whether I'm working or not, if I can help somebody, I will," said Sgt. Mapp, who lives in the district she patrols.
A neighbor noted that Sgt. Mapp plays Santa at Christmas and the Easter Bunny at Easter for the children in the Southwest neighborhood. And she proudly showed off her star-studded trophy for "Super Volunteer 200," given by the students of nearby Jefferson Junior High School.
In her litany of silly but serious stories, Sgt. Mapp says she was "a big kid" in the beginning. Encountering so many sordid characters and situations, she'd awaken her parents, Bernard and Eugene, in the middle of the night just to say thank you.
"We grew up in the projects, and we thought we were worldly, but I was so naive and [the older officers] embarrassed me every chance they got," said the self-described "good Catholic girl" who graduated from the former Notre Dame High School in Northeast.
Sgt. Mapp wound up working the prostitution detail on the very corner her father used to purposefully drive by every year after he'd taken her and her sisters to see the popular Woodward & Lothrop Christmas window display downtown. "He'd roll down the window and point and say, 'Don't let me ever see you out here,'" she remembered.
Little did Sgt. Mapp know that later she'd become a friend to those prostitutes who, in turn, respected her because she would counsel them and bring them clothing so they could have something appropriate to wear in the lockup.
Sgt. Mapp said her community-oriented role model for policing is retired Officer V.I. Smith, who was the "Officer Friendly" when she attended Roper Junior High School. He was a calm father figure to the students, but she can't recall ever seeing his gun.
Fortunately, Sgt. Mapp said she's never had to discharge her weapon.
No wonder she maintains that preventive policing is better than just being reactionary and locking people up.
"We can lock up 25 billion folks, but if that grandmother is still afraid to walk to the corner store, then we haven't done anything," she said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide