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.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.
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.
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.