Lieutenant Victor Braschnewitz, the now-former commander of our Police Service Area (PSA) within the Metropolitan Police Department, has retired from the force. He lives in our community with his wife and two children. The Connection asked him to reflect on his experiences growing up in and serving our city, as well as the experience of policing the community where he and his family live.
In May of 1962 I was born to Lya Wagner, a Latvian immigrant who migrated from Nazi Germany and then to Washington, D.C. via Boston, Massachusetts four years earlier. As with many Eastern Europeans, she spoke multiple languages (five) without having anything more than a high school education. Her rich multi-cultural exposure and disdain for Hitler’s oppressive regime, though she is not Jewish, compelled her to join a Nazi Resistance movement. She became a low-level operative in the White Rose Society; wrecking Nazi staff cars against big trees was her specialty.
Once here in Washington she met my father, an African American whose ancestry traced back to West Africa and from there to Colonial Beach, Virginia. As bi-racial parents during the 1960s, life for my mother and father was anything but normal and after the second year of my life, my mom chose to raise me on her own along with my two significantly older siblings who were both born in Munich, Germany.
I grew up in the bohemian and now very popular neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant long before it became what it is today. Back then it was a mostly black, working class community with a smattering of Latinos, Greeks and a few Eastern Europeans. This diversity, though limited by today’s standards, laid the foundation for my appreciation for people of every hue and especially those without substantive means, not unlike my family.
As a young child, I remember as though it were yesterday, watching D.C. Police motormen running radar in the 1700 block of Irving Street, the drag strip I grew up on. As one would expect, at the age of six or seven I was beside myself seeing these large, soldier-like men in their polished boots and blue uniforms alongside their always sparkling Harley motors. They would, with their bare hands, flag down cars that raced to speeds over 80 miles per hour in two side-by-side lanes, with parking back then on only the left side of the street. It was in this setting, at the northern end of the destruction zone of the ‘68 riots, that the passion for my life’s calling was born.
A few years after graduating from Wilson High School, I signed up for the force and began an odyssey that is just now, 26 years later, coming to a close. Along the way I’ve served officially as an officer in the neighborhood in which I grew up, a firearms and chemical munitions instructor, a SWAT team operator and then team leader, and a supervisor/middle manager in all but two, the First and Fifth, of our seven police districts. Just recently, I secured a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University in Professional Studies/Police Science.
Unofficially I have served as a mentor for kids from settings far more destructive than any I had to endure. I have been the deliverer of bad news to far too many parents whose children’s lives fell to the crack wars of the late 1980s and early 90s. These and many other experiences have made me both happy and sad but ultimately have left me rich with the opportunity to have touched and been touched by so many people’s lives.
Finally, one of my most satisfying assignments has been my last one, here in the Second District. About four years ago I was asked where I wished to next be assigned. After serving in arguably the harshest of environments D.C. has to offer, it didn’t take me very long to answer. I felt that working as a lieutenant in the district where I lived was something I really wanted to do before I left the department. A short time later my wish was granted and I landed as the manager of PSA 203 (Forest Hills) in 2008 – my home just around the corner from home. My wife and I bought our first house together in 1996, in PSA 201, so our children who were yet to be born, could attend Murch Elementary School. We still live there and our kids still attend schools in the Second District.
Being able to close out my career in a setting that provided such personal crossover has been an absolute gift and I wish to thank all of you who have granted me your partnership and trust throughout. I wish to send special thanks to Marlene Berlin, Jane Solomon, Robin Schepper and all of the dedicated Chairs of our local ANC 3-F. I have thoroughly enjoyed our work together.
See you at Starbucks,
Lieutenant Victor S. Braschnewitz