Capital City Diner owners allege robbery, MPD disinterest

This story made its way around the DC Blog echochamber yesterday, and I wanted to chime in with a different take on it. The guys who are attempting to open an old-style diner near Trinidad are reporting that they were robbed Sunday night near Bladensburg Road NE and K St. From their Diner Blog:
We (Matt & Patrick) were walking home late last night on Bladensburg Rd NE just north of the intersection with K St. We were with a friend of ours, aware of our surroundings, and in a well-lit area, but still were victims of a robbery.

We were walking down the street, passed by a group of 4-5 young people (one in a wheelchair), one of which asked if we had any money. After we passed about 10-15 feet, he quickly approached us, presented what appeared to be a sawed-off shotgun in his pants, and then demanded money from us. Two of us handed over some money and they fled up L St NE toward Carver/Langston.
The part of the story that has been generating a lot of comments is what happened next. The two men claim that they called 911, and after getting frustrated with waiting a long time for a response, approached an officer at a gas station. Only one officer appeared interested in the crime and called a detective to the scene. The detective allegedly attempted to talk one of the men out of reporting the crime, stating that a robbery had not occurred and reporting the crime might cause trouble for a white guy living in Trinidad.

OK. Now, we should remember the important fact that all of this information comes from one source only, the Diner's blog. It was re-reported by the Prince of Petworth and also mentioned on DCist.

After the hubub around the blogosphere, supposedly MPD has launched an investigation into the incident.

I'm going to limit my comments to a few things here, one being some observations about the reaction to this story. Commenters across the board are saying that this is typical MPD behavior, also alleging that this is likely part of a widespread effort to keep crime numbers down.

MPD has certainly gotten a bad rap lately, especially the top brass. There's a lot of internal strife right now, and Lanier isn't exactly the most popular police chief amongst MPD officers. The District has seen lower crime this year, especially violent crime. However, I find it very unlikely that there is an MPD-wide conspiracy to prevent people from reporting crimes. First off, the police union would obviously make this public to take down management. Additionally, this doesn't mesh with the second argument commenters make, which is the police don't care to investigate because there's no incentive for solving crimes. If anything, showing an increase in crimes would help the argument that more officers are needed and/or more overtime should be approved.

In any event, this whole story has launched a slew of "I remember that time MPD didn't really want to take a report" stories. Should the police actively discourage people from filing police reports? No, of course not. Are police officers going to make comments that the report is a likely waste of time... yeah, that's going to happen. I know we, as taxpaying residents, don't want to hear that. We will gripe and complain and say that they police aren't doing their jobs. A lot of us might come from smaller towns or cities where the police investigate each and every crime reported, and can even close a lot of those cases.

Sadly in a city with significant crime problems, a lot of lesser property crimes do not become priorities. There are a lot of details missing from the story as told by the Diner guys. We don't know how long they waited for police response, we don't know how they described the crime (or suspects) to dispatch. If you provide the police with a vague report about a crime that happened and the suspects have fled the scene, it's no longer a crime in progress. You will not get a response of overwhelming force with squad cars running code.

I don't like to say it, but once this event was over it was over. Thankfully no one was hurt, and apparently no valuables beyond some cash were taken. I sympathize with the victims, and I understand their frustration with the situation. I don't excuse a detective from being incorrect about the definition of robbery. However, the "discouragement" that occurred:
[T]he detective reminded Matt that he sticks out because Matt’s a white guy in Trinidad and asked repeatedly if he really really wanted to be remembered by the criminal’s associates if/when he’s prosecuted.
I read this to mean exactly what it says. Is it upsetting that the reality of Trinidad is that it's a very rough part of town that is not exactly welcoming to outsiders? Of course. However, I don't read that comment as being intimidation or an attempt to help keep crime stats down. I see it as a detective not sugarcoating the situation.

It's amazing that this whole situation has resulted in griping about the police, rather than any discussion of the fact that Trinidad is still an incredibly troubled part of the city, and it's only "steps away" from the new yuppie destination of H St NE. Instead, it turns into people griping about that time someone stole their ladder and the police weren't excited about taking a report.

While I don't blame these guys for being a bit upset, and maybe even blogging about it, I have to wonder how well they will survive running a late night business in a very rough neighborhood. It'll be immensely frustrating for them after the first few armed robberies, I imagine. Sadly we live in a city where, right now, losing some cash to a group of unruly teens might just be the cost of doing business. I don't fault them for filing a police report, of course, but part of me really wants to say, "Welcome to DC, it could be worse. In Chicago you might get beaten with a 2x4 while riding your bike."

UPDATE: Following a rather long (yet thought-provoking) discussion in the comments, I wanted to add a few thoughts. The first is that if the resources are available, MPD should always do as much as they can to locate suspects for a crime that has occurred. There's no excuse for anything less than that. The second is that there may be significant details about this story which are missing from the blog narrative. If MPD is investigating both the intial crime and a complaint about a detective, there may be specific details missing that would shed more light on the story. I did not consider this fact when initially writing this post, which led me to think there was something 'fishy' about the narrative. I now believe this falls under the "too soon to know anything." The blog and news world move fast, but I look forward to providing some sort of update in the future if more information becomes available.


  1. I really can't agree with you on this one. First of all, your premise is mind-bogglingly naive. You really can't believe that there's any kind of systematic pattern of DC cops discouraging the filing of police reports? While I doubt it has anything to do with them trying to fudge stats, it's simple laziness. It makes paperwork for them. It happens ALL the time, it has happened to me, and it is wrong. If more people gave a crap then it would happen less.

    Second, you really think there is no problem with a cop trying to SCARE someone into not making a report? I don't even know where to begin with that.

    This is absolutely scare tactics. Not to keep them out of the neighborhood, but to avoid doing work. It's using the fact that it's a rough neighborhood to scare someone out of making work for them. And Matt is hardly the only white guy in Trinidad. Where have you been? It's practically the next Columbia Heights over there.

    Yes, Trinidad is a rough neighborhood. It's also one that is in the middle of a revival entirely due to a bunch of white people investing tons of money. Roll typical gentrification problems/issues/conflicts now. We've seen it all before, yet you make it sound like this is some unique situation of rich white guy staking a claim where he shouldn't be. So you think the solution is apathy? Give me a break.

    Sure. They will have problems. But that is hardly unique. Wonderland was held up by a bunch of guys with shotguns only a couple years ago. Do you think their response should have been "oh well I don't want to make a stink, no problem?"

    I salute them for having the guts to make a big deal about this. It is a big deal. This is bullshit and outrage is the correct response. Your response is pathetic. Crime is a fact of life, but if everybody took your approach, then we'd be living in 1920's chicago.

  2. I'm still unclear on what even happened. The problem is this incident is getting re-posted and re-reported as God given fact and I'm a bit skeptical everything unfolded exactly how it's spelled out.

    There's some 'gentrification' in "North Capitol Hill" but Trinidad itself is not anywhere close to the new Columbia Heights. Or even Petworth.

    To expect that the police are going to bend over backwards for what isn't even really being described as an armed robbery, that's naive. The story is being told in a very wishy-washy passive-voice kind of way that makes me think there's a part we aren't really hearing. They were mugged by a dude with a shotgun but they got to keep their wallets and cell phones? Seems fishy.

    This isn't Wonderland getting robbed at gunpoint by shotguns. That's not even a close comparison.

  3. Also, I don't doubt there is systemic apathy towards police reports... I disagree it's a concerted effort to help improve stats. So we pretty much agree about that one.

  4. Did you read the story on their blog, from the horse's mouth? I didn't think it was unclear at all. Why would you automatically assume that what is being told about a crime by the victim themselves is inaccurate? This exact situation with the police response is so incredibly common. I have had very similar experiences personally.

    Taking a police report willingly is not "bending over backwards," Dave. It's the most basic part of their job. You shouldn't have to convince them to file a report. You shouldn't have to convince them that a crime had occurred. You shouldn't even have to ask them, they should just do it.

    As far as the story being "fishy" I just don't see it. Every mugging is different. They don't always beat you up and clean out your pockets. Maybe the were just opportunists as opposed to hardened muggers. Come on. I can't believe that that situation is so hard to imagine for you.

    This was a mugging. Why you think they would make this up, I can't fathom. There is no reason why they would that I can think of. There is no reason not to take their events at face value. What would be in it for them?

  5. I don't think they made it up, and by 'bending over backwards' I meant responding faster or with a larger show of force.

    Taking a report is part of their job, and in the end the report was taken.

    I read their blog post. I don't think the situation is made up, I think we have people who were very upset and frustrated about a situation that happened.

    Yes, if you call to report a crime that is no longer in progress it might take a while to get someone on scene. Should the police take a report? Sure. I just don't believe it's unreasonable for them to 'tell it like it is' to a certain extent.

    In the end, should we expect more? Yeah, we should. How realistic is that, I dunno. It is sad.

    I don't take it all exactly at face value because I know that if I was writing an angry and upset blog post about something that had just happened, I probably wouldn't recount the details in the most objective manner.

  6. Well, I think that when you call the police the moment after you've been mugged, it would be nice if they didn't stop at dunkin donuts on the way. In this case, there were cops RIGHT THERE at the gas station, who did not respond. Don't you think it's possible, if they had responded quickly, the perpetrators could have been apprehended? This actually does happens sometimes, you know. But not if the cops show up a half hour later.

    It's not very often that police hear about a crime BEFORE it has happened, you know. There is no pre-crime unit in DC yet. If you respond quickly, then sometimes you can get the perp. I just can't believe you see no problem with NOT responding quickly because the mugging is over. Street crimes are generally over with in seconds. So when exactly would be a good situation to respond quickly?

    There's no point in debating the veracity of their report. If you don't believe it then I suppose there's nothing more to say. I just can't think of any reason why you wouldn't. It's not something I haven't seen many times before.

  7. No, I know you need a prompt response to even try to catch anyone. A good time to respond very quickly is if the crime is in progress or you have good information about where the suspects are. I called 911 to report someone trying to open windows (from the outside) of my building. I gave them a location and watched as he tried all of the windows and then went around the corner to do different building. I stayed on the phone with the police and 3 units came running code to look for the guy who had run off into Girad park.

    If you call 911 after the fact and don't have any information on where the suspects went, then I imagine the response time will be greater.

    I dunno, I'm just not as outraged about this as everyone else. I'm just not 100% wanting to immediately use this as another reason to hate on the police.

  8. "I'm just not 100% wanting to immediately use this as another reason to hate on the police."

    And that is why you fail. This is why.i.hate.dc!! Do or do not do. There is no try.

    Thank you for the opportunity to use two Star Wars quotes.

    I would venture that the number of crimes reported in progress, versus after the fact, are very small. Every single robbery, mugging, homicide is going to be done by the time you're off the phone. The only kinds of crimes that might still be in progress that I can think of are break-ins and huge fights.

    I have called the police many times. Not once was it to report a crime that was still in progress.

    You cannot escape the fact that there were several cops nearby doing nothing. The only reason NOT to respond quickly to a crime that has happened only seconds ago is if you were, actually, dealing with a crime in progress. That would qualify as more important than trying to find people who had committed a crime moments before, but I can't think of much else that would.

    I read the crime reports all the time - they DO CATCH people in this situation sometimes. It's not a waste of time.

    I strongly that those three cops, as well as every other cop in Trinidad, was doing something more important than responding quickly to a mugging that had just occurred.

  9. Jamie, I agree with you for the most part. A prompt response and then driving the victim around in a police car looking for the suspects can result in arrests a lot of the time.

    My initial purpose for writing this post was that it was a good example of "confirmation bias," people read this post and then write about all of MPD is competent because this was just like that time someone wasn't enthusiastic about the chances for recovering a stolen ladder, etc.

    It appears as though there is a whole lot more to this story than is being reported, due to the fact that it's an ongoing investigation.

    You are right about the police in the parking lot, it reminds me of the story you wrote about on your blog about the officer who didn't want to help you because he was standing on the other side of the PSA boundary.

  10. ALSO, I'm very much so struggling with the concept of always having to hate on something. I feel as though the readership of this site has shifted a bit and doesn't demand that style of writing as much... and honestly I'm getting tired of the why i hate dc moniker.

  11. damnit, i had a well-written comment, and blogger ate it. there's what i hate...blogger.

    anyway, i live in trinidad. my basic point is that it's NOT an unwelcoming place. it's more welcoming than any other place i've lived in DC. please, don't make generalizations of a place you have little experience with solely from news reports and blog entries...

  12. @IMGoph, it's not just blogger, I have no problem on other blogger sites. There is something uniquely evil about the comment system on why.i.hate.dc. Most of the time I'm here, only the "delete" key works for editing (e.g. no arrows or mousing), and I'm not sure what it is I'm doing, but I manage to erase what I've typed as often as not. I have actually started writing comments in a text editor, then pasting them in here, because it's so unfortunate.

  13. Where else have you lived, if I might ask?

  14. (see, i had laid that all out in my eaten comment)

    anyway, in DC, i've lived in bloomingdale, logan, and u street. i've also lived in wheaton, md; michigan; georgia; and pennsylvania

  15. Facts r facts. They were robbed and no reaction by police

  16. I'll make this quick and brief, Just finishing reading your post about officers and PSA limits, and sitting in parking lots. Just so you know officer are written up and reprimanded for leaving thier post and even fired, yet their is no one fighting for us when we are thrown under the truck and citizen never hear and don't care as long as they get their ipod back...... the horror stories that officer deal with based on trying to police a community.