The commander of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Second District has reported three Van Ness and Forest Hills apartment buildings to the division of the Office of the Attorney General that handles “nuisance” properties because they have not implemented recommendations that could curtail problems that lead to many police service calls.
At a December 16th public meeting, 2D Commander Duncan Bedlion said that police look for patterns when a building is generating a large number of calls for service. MPD works with building owners and managers to do a security assessment and make recommendations. Often, he says, the buildings are quick to implement MPD suggestions. Some are not.
“If they do not follow them and we continue to see violent crime or narcotic-related crime we notify our partners at the Office of Attorney General, those that specifically work at the “nuisance building” section,” Bedlion said.
Bedlion said in a follow-up email to Forest Hills Connection that his department has asked the attorney general’s office to review 3003 Van Ness Street, the Saratoga at 4601 Connecticut Avenue, and the Chesapeake at 4607 Connecticut.
Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh told Forest Hills Connection that she called the December 16th meeting because “in recent months, there has been a marked increase in calls for service to MPD and an apparent rise in disruptive behavior in and around the Van Ness area.”
One resident brought up concerns about marijuana use and groups gathering at night at Forest Hills Park, but most of the concerns centered on disruptive behavior at area apartment buildings.
Bedlion said reported numbers of crime in the Second District have been relatively stable. However, “there is one significant area where we’ve seen an increase, and that’s what we call ‘assault with dangerous weapons.'”
The majority of these assaults in Van Ness and Forest Hills are domestic violence-related, Bedlion said, and “one of the most difficult assaults to prevent.” The most recent was a stabbing in an apartment at 3003 Van Ness.
Harry Gural, the president of the 3003 Van Ness tenants association, thanked Bedlion for MPD’s assistance, saying he knows it has been a problem building and that the police’s interventions have aided in residents’ complaints against landlord Equity Residential. But he questioned Bedlion’s assertion that the crime numbers in the Second District are stable. He said crime stats from MPD’s own CrimeCards application for PSA 203, the Second District public safety area that encompasses ANC 3F, showed an increase in crime from 2018 to 2021, compared to the previous three years. Other PSAs in 2D saw a decline.
In response to concerns in apartment buildings and on the street, Cheh and another commenter asked Bedlion about increasing the MPD’s presence, in hopes that more visibility would act as a deterrent.
Kim Farmer, a community member who has been working with police about activity at Forest Hills Park, welcomed the idea but said that bringing in more police would not address the underlying issues in the buildings.
“I just feel like we keep talking in circles of you know, having police do this or having the AG’s office do that, but… having police show up over and over again – it’s unfriendly and it’s a poor use of services. And it doesn’t solve the problem,” Farmer said.
After attending other community meetings with MPD and DC housing agencies, she said, “we know that a lot of these individuals need a lot of assistance and the past few years, they haven’t received it.”
Amy Schussheim, a resident of Connecticut House at 4500 Connecticut and retired Veterans Administration social worker, gave an impassioned plea for help for her building. She said she has been helping previously homeless voucher tenants – single mothers with children – who arrived without adequate furniture, food or clothing, and without any case workers on the scene.
She described a situation where a child was hanging from an upper story window, and an incident where large furniture was being dumped from a window above hers. She also said one family was causing fires, and when warned about that, disabled their unit’s smoke detector. Schussheim said that after one recent fire incident, firefighters told residents assembled in the lobby that they would stop coming because there had been too many prank calls from the building.
“I don’t want to see people in the street, but you don’t just put somebody in an apartment without any furnishings, without food, without clothes for the children. These kids aren’t going to school every day,” Schussheim said. “We need help from the city, and we’re not getting it.”
Tawana Holland of DC’s Department of Human Services emphasized that the District is not placing the formerly homeless in apartments. “When our residents receive a voucher they choose where they want to live,” she said.
“Residents are coming to your neighborhood because there have been other places in the city where they have been traumatized for many, many years. And when they get a voucher they want to have a better life, they want to go to a neighborhood that they perceive will be safer and will be more welcoming to them.”
Holland said residents who are rehoused through DHS receive furnishings. However, she said, she could not speak to the situation of every low-income resident. “Some are connected to the Department of Behavioral Services, and some do not have any services,” Holland said. The residents also have the right to refuse services, she said.
ANC 3F02 Commissioner Alexandria Appah, a resident of 3003 Van Ness, cautioned against conflating voucher holders and crime. Appah spoke of serving on two ANC 3F committees with voucher holders “who are committed to serving this neighborhood.” She urged residents at the meeting to join the ANC 3F committees to work on issues such as these, and to get to know more members of the community. She also encouraged fellow residents of 3003 Van Ness to report issues to management, to the tenants association, and to her.
“We will continue to put pressure on the building because I do think there are things there are absolutely things they need to change to make residents feel more safe,” Appah said.
In a follow-up email, Cheh told Forest Hills Connection that some steps that needed to come out of the meeting include more MPD 2D resources in the area, for DHS to look at providing services to voucher residents, and for the agency to facilitate community conversations among new and longer-term residents.
David J. Ross, the chief of staff at DHS, endorsed the idea of facilitating community conversations when Cheh and other participants brought it up at the meeting. He said he was reorganizing his staff with that in mind.
“Maybe we could do a better job of helping the transition,” Ross said. “Sometimes what I have seen is we’re asking case managers to work with community members to address issues and that’s not what case managers are trained to do. That’s not what they’re hired to do.”