Opinion Your Views — 17 April 2014
Del Ray is not a police state

By Robbin Warner, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

I am writing to inform you of a situation involving the Alexandria Police Department on Friday, March 28, on Sycamore Street in Del Ray during our 13th annual neighborhood party celebrating large trash pickup.

Five police cars full of officers broke up an orderly street party — full of families — and then stood in the street for over an hour disrupting traffic. This behavior was not only overkill for the situation, but demonstrated poor judgment on the part of members of the Alexandria Police Department.

For the past 13 years, the residents of Sycamore Street have held a party celebrating large trash day, affectionately known as the annual trash party. This party traditionally is a potluck dinner held in the yard of one of our neighbors for people on Sycamore and the surrounding streets to celebrate the exchange of discarded treasures that line the sidewalks the night before large trash pick up day. Everyone on Sycamore Street and the surrounding streets are invited.

This year, the party started at 6:30 p.m. with a potluck. For live music, we had the neighborhood band, the Derds — short for Del Ray Dads. All five musicians are homeowners on Sycamore and the surrounding streets.

By 8:30 p.m. the party was in full swing. Toddlers danced to the music while neighbors enjoyed good food and conversations. People cruised the street, picking up treasures on the sidewalk that were once someone’s trash.

At about 8:45 p.m., two police vehicles arrived. The officers said someone had complained about the noise. We had planned to stop at 9 p.m., but stopped immediately. Then the officers said that it was illegal to have a party in a front yard with beer and alcohol. So, the cooler with beer and wine was moved to the backyard and everyone was told that alcohol only could be consumed there.

After holding this party for 13 consecutive years, we were a bit surprised by being shut down so aggressively by the police, but everyone complied so that the party could continue.

This is when the situation got concerning. Instead of this being the end of the matter, two more police cruisers arrived. The now four police vehicles were all but blocking off the street and intimidating cars from driving down in fear that a serious crime had been committed, given the extensive police presence. For the better part of an hour, up to six police officers stood in a circle staring at the party as if waiting for a crime to be committed.

When asked why they remained watching, they responded by saying that they were waiting for their supervisor. About an hour later, a fifth car arrived with a supervisor who stayed for another 45 minutes. Throughout this period, there was little dialogue between the residents and the officers. This lack of conversation was because of the officers — not the residents. This is a very friendly and chatty street. Residents tried to ascertain what was going on only to be treated harshly, as if merely speaking to an officer demonstrated aggressive and suspicious behavior.

I’d like to point out that there were more officers and police vehicles on the street the night of the trash party than when a burglary occurred on the street earlier in the year.

Was this an example of a slow night in Alexandria? No less than six police officers felt it appropriate to hang out on our street. Was this a case of police officers being inadequately trained and therefore unable to assess a harmless situation without verification from their supervisor? Or is it some new development? Do the local police no longer know or understand the community that they serve?

Whatever the reason, this situation reflects poorly on City Hall and our city councilors. I’m not bringing this to the public’s attention so that the officers and supervisor involved can be reprimanded for using poor judgment. What concerns me —and inspired me to invest the time to write this letter — was that, at a time when the police department is under harsh scrutiny with the rash of unsolved murders, seeing so many officers use poor judgment in reaction to an event that is at the heart of why people love to live in Del Ray is cause for concern to every Del Ray homeowner.

Block parties, neighborhood parties, house parties and the like are important for community building. People move to Del Ray because of its strong sense of community. For example, my street, Sycamore Street, is so desirable that houses are sold immediately; they never make it to market.

The fact that the police department acted as if a community event on Sycamore Street was suspect and worthy of six police officers hanging out for more than an hour is worthy of concern and investigation by City Hall.

I believe bringing something like this to the public’s attention is one thing, but it is equally important to offer suggestions for improvement. In that vein, I suggest the police take a seminar on the Del Ray community, its residents and activities. To that end, I would be happy to volunteer my services to arrange such a training event.

 

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(20) Readers Comments

  1. If the shoe was on the other foot, and the police were indifferent or didn’t show, would the writer would have felt the same way? Next time make it legit and just get the permit and close the street.

    • Ditto! *Like

  2. Where to begin?
    First of all, the rest of Alexandria – tax payers – do not want to use our money to pay for training the police officers to deal with the residents of Del Ray (particularly those of the so popular Sycamore Street) who think they are above the law and hold block parties without the proper permits. And I really have a hard time believing that folks move to the overpriced, not all that great area of Del Ray because of the affectionately named annual trash party. Really?

    Shame on you and your first world problem self for berating the fine police officers who risk their lives every single day to protect ALL the citizens of Alexandria. They were simply just doing their jobs. The fact of the matter is you did not obtain the proper permits. It is simple – you break the law, you suffer the consequences. Here is a news flash – you are not above the law. Even if you are a resident of Sycamore Street where houses sell so swiftly they don’t make it to market.

    Block parties are held ALL OVER Alexandria – after obtaining the appropriate permits. Just because this party has been held for many years is not a reason for law enforcement to turn a blind eye. The party was obviously disruptive and involved some law breaking. Obviously other tax payers and residents of the elitist Del Ray were bothered by the noise. They have a right to complain.

    How awful for you to have been subjected to multiple police officers hanging around your houses waiting for a supervisor. You should be thankful that is all they did. You could have easily been fined or maybe arrested.

    Robbin, you might want to think about what you wrote and complained about. All the problems in the world, all the devastation, illness, violence, etc. and you are bent out of shape because your precious block party was interrupted by the people have have sworn to serve and protect you? Shame on you.

    Another news flash for you – the Del Ray community is no better than any other community in this city, this state, this country, or this world. No need to use our tax money to pay for specialized training of the police on how to handle the residents of Del Ray. I think it is pretty clear from your writing that they (police) and the rest of us know what type of community you are – elitist is one word to describe you.

    Next year, get the proper permits.

  3. “In that vein, I suggest the police take a seminar on the Del Ray community, its residents and activities. To that end, I would be happy to volunteer my services to arrange such a training event.”

    Give me a break. The citizens of this City have no clue what really happens in their back yard. Gang activity, stabbings, shootings, robberies, drug dealing, thefts… Officers have bigger things to deal with than attending “training” about the annual parties in a specific neighborhood.

    If someone called in a noise complaint, the Officers were required to respond and deal with it in the manner that they’re trained to do. The larger the group, the more Officers respond. It’s pretty typical in law enforcement.

    Next time, get a permit from the city for the party, then you won’t have a problem.

  4. Hey other commenters: you do not need a city permit to hold a party in your yard in Alexandria. It’s private property. It reads to me like the street was not blocked by anyone but the police officers.

    If the officers responded to a noise complaint, not a permit violation, the typical response is to get the noise down (resolving the complaint) and issue a citation (or not–officer’s discretion). There is no reason for multiple officers to linger for hours, especially on first complaint.

    You’re right that officers have way more important things to deal with. So why did they stand around for more than hour at a peaceful party? Seems like a waste of precious officer man-hours.

    I think the lack of conversation between the officers and the residents does sound concerning. Officers of the law have essential and very difficult jobs, and we should all be thankful for their work. But it’s not hard, dangerous, or risky to talk politely with residents. In fact there is abundant research and experience that doing so can make police work a lot easier in the long run, by fostering positive relationships between the police and community.

    I agree that the letter writer sounds entitled about their totally awesome street, but the issue of how the police interact with the community is a real issue. In too many cities, leaders are allowing local police culture to turn paramilitary. Officers cultivate suspicion of everyone they talk to, and anticipate violent adversaries in every situation. If we let that happen in Alexandria, it will be worse for everyone–including the police.

  5. A few points to clarify.

    1. There were two noise violations calls. 2 officers responded to the first call. They gave a verbal warning about the volume and left without in incident.
    2. The “cooler” of wine and beer was in fact an 8 foot fold-out table with numerous bottles of wine, spirits, and beer. The table was flanked by tiki torches and was decorated to look like a bar.
    3. Several of the 50-75 party guests were in fact engaging in conversations with the officers. The officers were listening to questions, concerns, and complaints.
    4. One party guest was so intoxicated that she fell off the curb and hit the back of her head on the street. Paramedics were called but the call was canceled after aid was rendered by a qualified guest.
    5. No guest was arrested or sited for any violation. With the numerous displays of public intoxication, the officers showed incredible restraint and judgement of the entire situation.

    Robbin, now that we have clarified a few of the key details that you have neglected to include in your opinion piece I am curious to see what you would have done as an officer. Keep in mind that you are responding to a second noise violation with 50-75 intoxicated adults with only street lamps providing your source of light. Make sure you factor in officer safety, citizen safety, and public relations. 400 words or less. Good luck.

  6. Community policing-

    You put blame on the officers for standing by in the outskirts instead of issuing citations? Wow the police really can’t win in this city. Instead of issuing open container citations, noise violations, permit violations.. they just notify residents of the complaint (legit as a live band would be noisy and admittance of crimes by the OP), and stood by to make sure things went smoothly. You blame them for not taking action and standing by? Absurd what you folks believe is a police state.

    Maybe it was a slow night, which is unusual in the suburban DC city. Being passed that the police are just starting ding by is ridiculous.

  7. My neighbors house was burglarized on that street (guessing that’s the burglary mentioned in the article). It wasn’t reported til later and a few officers showed up and left after no suspect was there. They caught the guy later. Good work APD. I am ashamed of my neighbors actually branding our hardworking pd as a police state.

  8. This is the most over the top piece of the year. Go f$&@ yourself.

  9. Was the party to celebrate my 6% raise I got as well as my staff. We wont raise taxes and I keep on cutting away the city employees’ benefits just as long as I make you happy Robbin. Hey the cops that showed up are the lowest paid in the area, and have the highest insurance deductibles. Hey regarding your neighborhood, do any cops live there? NOPE! Want to know why, as I am making sure they can’t afford it. Don’t worry Robbin when Im done with the city there wont be 6 officers showing up, there wont be any to send! No one wants to be a cop in our city because we dont pay them enough. So have your party! And thanks for alerting about me about permits, Ill raise those fees immediately as Sugar needs a new deck !!!
    Sugar-

  10. You’re upset because the police responded to your house and the stood outside?

    Cool story bro…

  11. I was going to write a long comment defending the officers, but it looks like most of the important points have been covered by previous comments.

    However, I find it completely tasteless for Ms. Warner to bring up the unsolved homicides because she was offended by the police officers’ actions on “trash party night.” To even suggest that APD is not working diligently to solve these cases is an insult to the detectives who are working around the clock to bring justice to the individual(s) who committed these heinous acts. Real life isn’t the tv show CSI. Some crimes are just difficult to solve.

    I will agree with Ms. Warner that Del Ray is not a police state because nothing that happened on trash party night indicates that it is.

  12. http://www.writingwithchocolate.com

    If you are interested in any of Mrs. Warner’s other musings.

  13. Hey you COMPLAINING IDOTS!!!!!!!! You call the police when you need help.. but not want to be bothered when they are called on you!!!!! These officers are the lowest paid Police Officers in the STATE!!!!!!! You claim you pay your taxes, but guess what… that money goes to the City Manager who’s making over 250K and to the stupid trolleys!!!! Get a life.. if you have to write an article on this.. you have nothing valuable going on!!!!! I am a resident of Alexandria and all you people do is bitch when it comes to the police.. get a life and appreciate how much they do for so little… LOSERS!!!!!

  14. As a Del Ray resident, I was appalled to read Robbin’s letter deriding the police for fulfilling their duty to our community. I would certainly be surprised if the views expressed in this letter are held by most of our neighbors. Previous commenters have already addressed most of the issues that I would note with the letter. Robbin’s insistence that noise ordinances and other generally applicable laws should apply differently based on the demographics of the neighborhood where the incident took place is troubling. In fact, since no citations were issued despite two noise complaints and obvious public consumption of alcohol, I wonder if Robbin and friends were already the recipients of milder treatment than they might have received if they were not Del Ray residents.

  15. So glad to see that the reasonable people have said what I had intended to offer. (Out of town, late to the “party” sorry.)

    Ms. Warren makes other DelRay residents look bad. If the “party” might impede traffic, or would be better if traffic were diverted, then get a flippin’ permit. It is an extra measure to keep parents, kids and drivers safe.

    One person’s party is another person’s noise complaint.

  16. “Police State?” “Worthy of concern and investigation by City Hall?” Really??? Ms. Warner needs to get over herself. I have happily only had to call the police one time in the 10 years I have lived in Del Ray, and they could not have been more helpful and professional on that occasion. Add me to the chorus of residents supporting them in this one as well.

  17. Don’t bring that trash in here !

  18. To those who have backed APD, thank you. They are understaffed and the lowest paid in the area and yet still provided stellar service daily.

    Ms. Warner, you are not the exception. You must abide by the same laws as the rest of us. If this same call for service occurred in the inner-city, with open containers and intoxicated people walking around in public, would you just expect officers to say “move it to the backyard?” Or is that just Sycamore street trash party rule of thumb?

  19. I agree with the previous posters. I was happy to see that EVERYONE disagreed with Robbin Warner. I saw the comments that our police department gets paid less than all nearby jurisdictions and that’s appalling given their dedication and increase of development. I hope Robbin Warner gets training on policing and laws/ordinances do she stops violating them.

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