- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2010

D.C. scribes are questioning whether an earlier curfew would have thwarted the melee that broke out Friday night inside a Metrorail station in downtown Washington and scared the daylights out of everyone on the scene, but the politicians aren’t so forthcoming.

The Fenty administration is offering Metro whatever it needs and members of the unarmed citizens patrol group Guardian Angels have begun riding the rails during the week. The Guardian Angels will add special patrols on Friday and Saturday nights as a prevention measure, but that may not be enough to satisfy residents and businesses.

The violence, which involved an estimated 70 people, also is a major concern of the nonprofit Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District (BID), which includes more than 800 commercial properties in an area that stretches from Louisiana Avenue near Union Station to the White House. Its membership plans to address the fight at its monthly meeting.

“The brawl will be a top agenda item at [the] August meeting,” said Rick Reinhard, BID’s deputy executive director. “Responding to our concerns” and those of the Penn Quarter Neighborhood Association and Downtown Neighborhood Association, the Metro Police Department “a long time ago formed a special Chinatown/Gallery Place foot and bicycle patrol, which patrols the area until 2 a.m.,” but these units don’t typically enter the Metro stations.

The fisticuffs occurred inside the Gallery Place Metro Station about 11 p.m. Friday as youths were trying to beat the city’s midnight curfew. The station, which is underground and one of the busiest in the city, draws nearly 27,000 passengers on weekdays.

Young riders from different neighborhoods are attracted to Gallery Place’s entertainment and eating establishments, the Verizon Center, which holds concerts and sports events, a bowling alley and movie theaters.

The dark-horse Democrat in the race said that neither Mayor Adrian M. Fenty nor his chief challenger, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, wants to take a tough-love approach to curb violence like the Metro brawl, which led to several injuries and arrests.

Leo Alexander, who is running a distant third in the mayoral race, said his opponents have dropped the ball on innovative law enforcement policies and social service strategies to curb youth violence.

He didn’t use the word curfew, but offered a tougher law-and-order approach that would end the practice of sending delinquent youths to group homes.

“Because public safety is paramount, I will build a secure facility in Laurel, Md. … This academy will offer a full range of academic, vocational and therapeutic services. All juvenile violent offenders will be kept in this facility until they reach majority age for their own protection and that of the community.”

However, he did not specifically answer requests by The Washington Times to comment on moving back the city’s youth curfew from midnight to 11 p.m., as multiple pundits and publications have suggested in recent days.

Neither Mr. Gray’s campaign nor Mr. Fenty’s responded to requests for comment on the curfew issue by Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Fenty, when he was a lawmaker, voted against curfew legislation. Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the city is prepared to aid Metro Transit Police if the mass-transit agency makes such a request.

The Guardian Angels, which began working with D.C. police more than 20 years ago, began special patrols Tuesday on the Green Line, riding from Fort Totten in Northeast to Congress Heights in the heart of Southeast Washington.

Authorities continue to investigate the incident and still don’t know what precisely started the brawl. No weapons were found on the scene, but residents and businesses remain edgy.

Mr. Reinhard said that the growing number of downtown residents - the residential population of the area has nearly doubled to 8,400 in the past decade - provide additional “eyes and ears” on the street, but also votes at the polls.

“The growing number of residents, who also are voters, also helps ensure that downtown is listened to by city and federal officials,” he said.

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