Thursday, June 25, 2009

More on the public assembly rule

Drug Free Zone
Originally uploaded by squidpants
So the reader who posted the original message on the Columbia Heights listserve posted the sign in the comments - and it's kind of fishy. It's one of those drug free zone signs, but at the bottom it says "Charles H. Ramsey, Chief of Police." Ramsey hasn't been chief since 2006. Maybe they're using old signs, but still, that's odd.

The handwritten notice is also only for a week, which is odd. Why just a week? Is that all that's allowed under the law?

Anyway, it seems odd, and I'm going to email MPD about it.

Click the sign for a bigger version.

UPDATE: Inspector Jacob Kishter responded to my question on the 3D Substation list: "Its being changed as we speak. Its usually for only a limited time." So there you have it, it is legit.


  1. There were some of these up last year on the 1400 block of Columbia Rd. What I don't quite understand is what they're prohibiting that isn't illegal already.

  2. I ran into them putting the signs up (although, fyi, I suspect they are putting them up because they got torn down, NOT because of the Ramsey weirdness) and with them was a female police officer whose name I unfortunately forget. She turned out to be (this is what I heard at least) the PSA Captain who ordered the signs be put up.

    My guess is that this is how it works (this after having called 3D several times), based on what the WaPo was saying about how the checkpoints in Trinidad worked last year:

    A precinct captain can at any time declare such a zone based on their own sense of neighborhood issues. I suspect this extends to any of these zone types (such as the prostitution free zones, which are probably more insidious. Sex Worker advocacy organizations have reported that people have been arrested for having condoms on them in those zones). The reasoning probably runs something like "this allows officers that the community knows and that are on the street to react to situations without bureaucracy."

    The officer did verbally confirm my suspicion that there is ZERO community contact about this. They don't need to announce it to residents, they did NOT announce it to residents, there is no process by which a resident can get information about this (I was told I could file a FOIA request), and there's no process by which to evaluate the success (I really pressed the last point).

    The concerns I raised with her were:

    *Lack of community input
    *Will I get hassled by the police in front of my own building?
    *How do they know who to target?
    *If they know people have drugs, why not go after them on the grounds of the drugs?
    *How is the success or failure of this judged?
    *Why are none of the signs in Spanish?

    The only one she gave on and seemed genuinely embarrassed about was the lack of a Spanish translation on the sign, a gross oversight in a neighborhood that's likely majority Spanish speaking.

    Unfortunately, as she said, "by the time they get Spanish ones printed, the zone will be over."

    In response to my question about whether this could lead to racial profiling, she bristled at the question, and told me that no one is profiled on appearance.

    I followed up by asking her if this means I could get arrested in front of my house.

    She laughed, "You don't look like the kind of person to be dealing drugs."

    Which, unfortunately, contradicts the previous statement.

    The officer was nice and sincere but it's pretty clear this whole thing lacks oversight and evaluation mechanisms, the implementation has huge gaps, and the logic of the whole idea is a bit questionable.

    I got an email back from Jim Graham who said a staffer was looking into it.

  3. Just a follow up as to why its only a week:

    My guess is that, like I mentioned in the above post, this is structured like the prostitution free zones and the checkpoints: The police are limited to a certain time period, but they can typically renew the zone for the same unit of time at the end.

    I have no verification of this though and I'm just going on what I could dig up through the Washington Post and the Examiner.


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