Jan 5, 2023 - News

D.C.'s nightlife police task force is getting results

A crime scene blocked off in the U Street corridor. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images.

As summer got underway last year, D.C. police launched a task force aimed at curbing violence in three nightlife hotspots. Six months later, data shows crime has dropped — even as business owners aren’t convinced the program has been a success.

Why it matters: Heightened anxiety about shootings, carjackings, and other violent crimes has caused some residents to think twice about going out in the city. Many are steering clear altogether, restaurant and nightclub owners say.

Catch-up quick: The task force launched in mid-June and focuses on nightlife corridors around H Street NE, U Street NW, and Connecticut Ave. near Dupont Circle.

  • The squad is comprised of approximately 40 people — police but also personnel from the city's Department of Transportation and fire and emergency services, as well as alcohol regulators — who monitor the corridors on foot and from cars.

Zoom in: Members break up gatherings in alleys and stop in at bars to make sure they haven’t over-served anyone, besides regular patrolling, says Morgan Kane, an MPD assistant chief of police.

By the numbers: The U Street corridor saw a 64% decrease in violent crime when the squad was working on weekend nights between June and December 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, per MPD data.

  • The H Street area saw a 56% decrease in violent crime, but an 8% jump in overall crime.
  • Violent crime in Dupont’s nightlife corridor dropped 50%.

MPD says the task force seized 96 guns and five ATVs in its first six months of operating.

What they’re saying: Some business owners tell Axios they’ve noticed less crime but have been frustrated by a lack of communication from the police. Some weren’t even sure the task force still existed.

Bill Spieler, who owns DC9 on U Street, says he’s noticed less gunfire and ATV activity outside his club. But the task force’s work has involved street closures that make it difficult for patrons to access businesses, he says.

  • He also wonders whether the increase in patrol cars and their flashing lights is scaring off customers.
  • MPD’s Kane says streets are closed on a case-by-case basis and patrol cars keep their lights on to increase visibility, which reduces opportunities for crime.

Other business owners want to see more from the task force. Doron Petersan, who owns vegan diner Sticky Fingers on H Street, says happy hour and evening service have trailed off over the past year due to car robberies, vandalism, and pickpocketing in the neighborhood.

  • Petersan — who herself was recently carjacked — believes more of a visible police presence could help.

What’s next: The task force was initially slated to wind down at the end of last summer but it will continue to operate, per Kane. She says officials are considering adopting the policing model in other parts of the city.


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