- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 14, 2008

The new anti-crime initiative by the Metropolitan Police Department to set up checkpoints in the homicide-prone Trinidad section of Northeast has civil-liberties groups manning the barricades, but some residents want officers to bring the checkpoints to their neighborhoods.

Several residents and community leaders say police should expand the Neighborhood Safety Zones program begun last weekend. Officers set up checkpoints at random intersections, checked drivers’ identifications and questioned them about the purpose of their visit.

Police concluded the first phase of the initiative Thursday after the scheduled five days.

Now residents in other parts of Ward 5 and in Ward 8 seem to want the same treatment.

“We’re clamoring for a checkpoint over here,” said former Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kathy Henderson. “It’s not only sound, but it’s lawful.”

The new plan drew fire from American Civil Liberties Union, which sent 30 volunteers to monitor police at checkpoints last Saturday.

Ward 5 ANC Commissioner India Henderson is circulating a petition requesting traffic checkpoints in the Carver Langston neighborhood and surrounding area, which lie just east of Trinidad, and some residents have expressed their support.

“This neighborhood wants anything that will eliminate the ability of criminals to go to and fro,” said Ben Jackson, a 21-year-old resident of Carver Langston.

But ACLU National Capital Area Executive Director Johnny Barnes said the plan is unconstitutional regardless of whether residents like it.

“What we are witnessing in Trinidad is troublesome,” Mr. Barnes said. “It would appear that the police are on a collision course with the courts. Just because some residents want checkpoints doesn’t obviate the Bill of Rights.”

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier started the program to address a series of shootings in the 5th Police District. Seven of the city’s 42 homicides since April have occurred in Trinidad.

Chief Lanier initially authorized the checkpoints for five days and had the option to extend their use to 10 days, but said Thursday she would not extend the program.

The department may reinstitute the checkpoints as needed, spokeswoman Traci Hughes said.

Trinidad residents have given mixed reviews about the program and suggested a variety of alternatives, from increasing the number of officers on foot patrol to expanding community services and programs for youth.

“They made it safe for now,” said Jerry Green, 52. “But what’s going to happen when they leave? You’ve got [criminals] who are as patient as the police are.”

Others said they don’t mind the possible rights violations if the neighborhood becomes safer.

“I think it’s a good idea because sometimes you have to do drastic things to keep things under control,” said Robert Lowery, 53.

Ward 8 ANC Commissioner Sandra Seegars said she would like to see the safety zones extend to the Congress Heights and Washington Highlands neighborhoods and said the plan should be applied wherever there is violence.

“Any community with a fatal shooting should have a four-block radius set up by the police, and it should last however long it takes to restore security,” she said.

In the 5th District as a whole, 14 people have been killed since April, and 22 year-to-date - one more than in all of last year.

There have been 74 homicides citywide, two less than at the same time last year, according to police.


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