“Not great for much”, “Sense of hopelessness”, “Hopefully, you can do better” – these are the reviews for Lincoln Heights, a neighborhood in Anacostia.
“Exactly what I’m looking for”, I think.
The Friday before, I had done a Ride-Along with police in Adams Morgan. The program allows you to accompany the police for a couple of hours and watch them do their work. Even though Adams Morgan is a rather safe area, we had a person down, searched for a suspicious individual, pulled cars over etc. You can read the full story here.
At the end, though, one of the officers recommended checking out the 6th district, a wilder area, next time. Reading the afore mentioned depressing accounts, I now understand what he meant by that.
When I get my confirmation for the Saturday afternoon shift a couple of days later, I remember what the officer at Adams Morgan told me: “You’ll probably need a bullet proof vest there.”
Deadly metro station
Luckily, I’m staying at a fairly safe area here in DC. The downside, however, is that it takes me more than an hour to get to Anacostia. Before I head out, I look up how to get there via Metro. That’s when a bunch of articles pop up on my computer. Unsettling articles.
In 2016, three people were killed at Deanwood Metro station. The exact station where I’m supposed to get off. The most recent case happened earlier this year, during broad daylight. According to various articles, a teen, his mom and sister were waiting for the next train; they wanted to get a new haircut as an Easter treat. So another man comes up and asks the teen: “What are you looking at?” The boy simply asks: “What?” and that’s when the man allegedly pulled a gun and shot him. The boy didn’t make it.
I can’t stop thinking about this pointless tragedy when I’m on the train, heading for Anacostia. Then suddenly, the train stops.
“We’re experiencing difficulties. A passenger got off and is on the tracks. This might take a while. We apologize for the inconvenience”, a lady says through the loudspeaker.
I take a look at my watch. I’m running pretty late already. If I want to make it in time, I have to take a car. Wondering if the universe sent me a sign, I end up ordering an Uber to the police station.
20 minutes later, I enter the station. By now, I’m already familiar with the procedure. There’s a lady behind a counter who asks for my ID. As I wait for her to process my data, I take a look around. Next to the counter are a couple of FBI posters. One is about a critical missing person; an eight-year-old girl who vanished a couple of years ago and hasn’t been spotted since. The other poster shows a 24-year-old woman who is missing too and the third one asks for witnesses who have seen a car theft.
An officer stops by and starts talking to me. I tell him about my upcoming Ride-Along. He’s super friendly and welcoming.
“If there’s gonna be a homicide tonight, chances are good that it’s gonna happen in this district”, he says and laughs. Being confronted with tragedy on a frequent basis, I can see how he uses humor when talking about his work.
I’m not surprised when the lady behind the counter hands me a waiver I have to sign. I skim it. It pretty much says that neither me or – I’m assuming in case of my death – my heirs, executors, administrators or any other persons can charge Metropolitan Police Department. I shrug my shoulders, sign it and hand it back to the lady.
“Officer W. will be guiding you tonight”, she says. “She’s on her way here.”
She? I’m excited that I get to ride with a female officer in an area like this. You go girl! I take a seat in the waiting area and, sure enough, half an hour later a woman in uniform approaches me and introduces herself as Officer W. She’s a little bit shorter than I am and has her braided hair tied to a bun. Let’s call her Officer W.
“Follow me”, she says and I do as I’m told.
That thing she needs
Another officer accompanies us to the car because she needs something that’s stored there. Officer W. reaches into the vehicle. “Oh my”, I think when I see what it is she needed: a huge role of that yellow police ribbon. The one they use to close off crime scenes. The kind you probably know from movies.
“They must be using this one a lot”, I think as I get into the car.
Just like last time, I get to sit up front. And just like last time, there’s a computer to my left where I can check what happens in the district. I’m startled when I learn that just earlier, there had been an armed robbery.
“The two teens were armed with black pistols”, Officer W. says as she starts the engine and begins to drive. “They stole the man’s ID and cellphone but they didn’t get any money.”
“Are we going to pick up your partner?”, I ask.
“No, I do the shift alone”, she says and I’m stunned.
“Are you ever afraid, given that this area is notorious?”, I ask.
“Not afraid”, she says. “Maybe more cautious.”
Homicides and deescalation
I look outside of the passenger window. The houses here look so nice and clean. Merely by looking at them, I never would have guessed that this is known to be a sketchy area. And at first it really doesn’t seem so. For about two hours, we just drive up and down the roads and nothing happens. Nevertheless, I’m far from being bored. As we drive down the streets, Officer W. points out recent crime scenes (“We had a homicide there only a few weeks ago.”) and we talk about what’s it takes to be a cop (“It’s all about deescalation.”).
We’re sitting in the car in silence for a minute when, suddenly, another window appears on the computer screen. Someone reported a domestic abuse. While we’re heading for the address, I listen to the police radio and get the shocking details. Turns out that a woman – let’s call her Ira – got punched in the face by her boyfriend. She’s bleeding. Also, she’s pregnant.
After a ten-minute-drive, we pull up in front of the apartment and get out of the car. Another female officer meets us downstairs. Officer W. and I are about to go upstairs to the woman’s place, when she stops us.
Since the others are already up there, would you mind checking out her boyfriend’s place?Police Officer
“Since the others are already up there, would you mind checking out her boyfriend’s place? The woman says he might be there. His car should be parked out front. He’s driving a red Honda.”
In a way, I’m relieved that I’m not going to meet the woman who took the 911 call. For all I know, I wouldn’t want a random person in my apartment if I was in her position.
Tracking down the boyfriend
The computer gives us both, the boyfriends name and address. But for the sake of data privacy, I won’t use his real name here. Let’s call him Jackson. We drive up to Jackson’s address. Sure enough, his car is parked on the road across from his house. Officer W. stops her car a couple of meters down the road, we get out of the car and approach the house. Officer W. knocks on the door. I’m standing in Jackson’s front yard, a couple of meters behind Officer W. Nobody answers.
I look at the house. You can see light in several rooms. Clearly, someone is home. I’m wondering if Jackson has a gun. And that’s when it dawns on me: All the other officers are wearing a bullet proof vest. I’m not. I’m surprised they didn’t want me to stay in the car.
“Oh well”, I think and shrug my shoulders.
A couple of minutes later, another police car arrives on scene. The officer we met earlier and her partner step out of the car. Now her partner knocks on the door – one time, two times, three times.
“Metropolitan Police. Please open the door”, he says.
After the fourth time, we hear a voice.
“Who’s there?”, someone asks from behind the door. It’s the voice of an elderly woman. It must be Jackson’s grandma.
“It’s the police, m’am. Please open the door”, the officer says.
“What’s happening?”, she asks. She continues to talk but I can’t make out what she’s saying. Apparently, she’s talking to someone else who’s inside the house.
“We’re looking for your grandson”, the officer says.
“Which one?”, the voice asks.
“Jackson”, the officer says.
“What happened?”, the voice asks. I can hear that she’s irritated and annoyed.
“Jackson is fine. We just need to talk to you”, the officer says.
“I’m not going to open the door”, the grandma says.
Now the officer’s partner – the female whom we had met earlier – takes over. But she can’t talk the grandma into opening the door either so she just leaves her card and we head back to the police cars.
It’s frustrating. Not because I wanted the thrill. Watching police trying to get them to open the doors was thrilling enough, trust me. It’s frustrating because there’s nothing police can do.
Hardly any other option
“We can’t just kick in the door”, Officer W. tells me when I ask if there are any other options.
“If he had been him in there, I would have gotten him”, the male officer says, obviously upset. Earlier he was the one who talked to Ira. So he’s actually seen what Jackson has done.
According to the computer, Jackson’s license is expired. Besides this, the police is going to drop by the house regularly for the next few weeks.
“Oh we’re gonna get him eventually”, Officer W. says as we get back to the car. “He’s gonna drive, he’s going to get pulled over and that’s when we’ll get him.”
We head back to the car. Little did we know that the night had yet another, even more dangerous adventure in store. This one, however, I’m saving for another blog post. Stay tuned!