The streets of NoMa routinely teem with people well into the early morning as partiers stream through the doors of the massive nightclubs Ibiza and Fur. The neighborhood just north of Union Station is among the District’s fastest-changing, and even its name has only begun to stick.
NoMa — short for north of Massachusetts Avenue — is now a bustling city within a city in Northeast Washington, and more condos and a new hotel are on the way. That has D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier girding for a surge in 911 calls from new residents concerned about safety, security and noise when 1,400 clubgoers step outside at 3 a.m. Her strategy for dealing with that, she said, is still being worked out.
“I’m trying to determine what type of resources I have and how we will deploy — foot patrol versus bike patrol versus cars,” Lanier said in a recent interview.
These days, police study not only where crime happens but also where they think it will happen. As residential and retail development pushes more people and businesses into new areas, economic development data can be as important in shaping police staffing decisions as armed-robbery statistics.
In communities identified as redeveloping, the police presence can become more visible through increased foot and bicycle patrols. More detectives are assigned to investigate the crimes that occur. Officials reach out to residents and community leaders, and they survey business owners on their needs.
Lanier keeps a binder stuffed with numbers on 14 areas considered the District’s up-and-coming shopping and residential hubs, including the Southwest Waterfront and City Center along New York Avenue NW.
She’s preparing a five-year plan to detail how she intends to police those neighborhoods in the future.
“My primary goal, as these areas roll out, is that not only are they safe, but that they feel safe,” Lanier said, explaining that she deploys an “initial surge of officers” as an area becomes established. “We need to set the standard very quickly of what is what is not acceptable.”
Today, her attention runs toward areas that include H Street in Northeast and Columbia Heights and the U Street corridor in Northwest. On H Street, residents had long complained of rampant drug dealing and prostitution. Redevelopment has brought new businesses, residents and visitors, but also more street robberies and late-night nuisance crime.
Years ago, the area around Gallery Place in Northwest was the epicenter of District revitalization. In a place once largely deserted, the construction of a downtown arena produced a gradual escalation in the number and quality of restaurants, shops and residences. It also attracted problems — including crowd issues, traffic congestion, shoplifting and robberies.
The District is not a 24-hour city. Still, residential neighborhoods largely served by corner-store retail have been transformed into day-and-night destinations for people from across the region. That has meant a change for a police department that for decades chiefly struggled with homicide and the drug trade.
“Even a subtle change in a neighborhood can change crime,” Lanier said.
“Ultimately, it’s a complete shift in standards, regulations, transportation, policing and public safety. If we know where the development is, we can predict a little better and put things in place to prevent crimes from popping up in those places.”
One reason redevelopment challenges police is that it doesn’t happen all at once. Along H Street NE, for instance, the bars, dance studio, restaurants and clubs are still next to boarded-up buildings.
In the patrol area that includes the H Street corridor, armed and unarmed robberies dropped from 77 in the first seven months of 2006 to 52 during the same period this year, according to the department. The total number of violent crimes dropped from 116 to 76 for that same period.
Residents say they understand that revitalization doesn’t wipe out crime completely or for good. The prostitutes and corner boys who pushed crack are gone, neighborhood residents say, but there are other fears — robbers preying on patrons rendered vulnerable by alcohol and dangers associated with late-night crowds, for example.
“We traded one type of crime for another,” said Pia Forstrom, who is in her early 40s and nine years ago moved with her husband from San Diego to a townhouse just south of H Street.
Ed Hill, 40, who moved to the neighborhood from Logan Circle in Northwest two years ago, said that he has not been a crime victim but that he does watch trends through police Internet listings and the news media.
“I still won’t come to H Street after 11,” Hill said as he sipped beer one recent evening at the Biergarten Haus, where he was with friends and their young children. “But it’s because of the drunken 20-year-olds, not the crime.”
Serious crime remains an issue in redeveloping neighborhoods.