- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Metropolitan Police Department commander temporarily relieved of his duties in the Georgetown area because of racially insensitive remarks after a killing in the neighborhood told a black congregation yesterday that he has learned from his mistake and he hopes others will, too.

“I’ve got to set the tone for what our officers have to do,” acting 2nd District Cmdr. Andy Solberg told members of the First Baptist Church in Georgetown. “We’re all one family, black and white. It’s time to take off the blinders.”

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey reassigned Cmdr. Solberg to the department’s school-security division after his remarks during a community meeting about the July 9 killing of Alan Senitt, 27. Cmdr. Solberg was returned last Monday to his post in Northwest.

“This is not a racial thing to say that black people are unusual in Georgetown,” Cmdr. Solberg, a 19-year veteran in the department, was quoted as saying at the meeting. “This is a fact of life. … I would think that at 2 a.m. on the streets of Georgetown, a group of three people, one of whom is 15 years old, one of whom is a bald, chunky fat guy, are going to stand out. They were black.”

Mr. Senitt, a British citizen, was stabbed to death in the attack at about 2:15 a.m. near the intersection of 31st and Q streets Northwest.

The robbers had approached Mr. Senitt and a female companion, demanding money and valuables. One man grabbed the woman and dragged her down a driveway, where he tried to pull off her clothes. The killing was among 13 in the first 11 days of this month,which prompted Chief Ramsey to increase police efforts as part of crime emergency that will last at least through Aug. 9.

Within hours, investigators arrested four persons in connection with the crime: Kristopher Piper, 25, of Southeast; Jeffrey Rice, 22, of Southeast; Olivia Miles, 26, of Northeast; and a 15-year-old Southeast boy, who is being held in juvenile security detention.

The Rev. I. Benni Singleton, the church’s interim pastor, said he felt Cmdr. Solberg’s words after morning services yesterday were well-received by the congregation.

“It appeared he was sincere,” Mr. Singleton said. “For the most part, people were glad the meeting occurred. I think it established a kind of communication with the [police] department. … It opened some doors. On his side, I think his eyes are more wide open. He’s now more sensitive to a number of areas.”

Cmdr. Solberg urged the congregation of the church — the oldest black church in Northwest — to become role models and talked about his family: his father a university professor, his mother a fifth-grade teacher. He taught at Cardozo High School before joining the police department.

Cmdr. Solberg also presented to Mr. Singleton a certificate of authority, a photograph of Chief Ramsey and a police badge bearing the number 1862, the year the church was founded.

“We must know each other,” Cmdr. Solberg told the congregation, as the 60 members at the church stood and applauded. “We must work together to make the safest environment.”

He also said police officers are not good listeners because they become too involved in giving commands.

“What I need to do now is listen,” he said. “I have been very humbled by this whole process.”

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