Will the 6D Substation Close?

“Over the past month, many residents in the Sixth District have reached out to me, Assistant Chief [Diane] Groomes, and Commander [Robert] Contee about the fate of the Sixth District Substation (6D-1) at 2701 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE,” wrote Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Cathy Lanier in a statement released on July 25. “With the build-out of the Merritt School – which will be a nicer and more suitable facility than the current station and substation – and the 6D-1 lease set to expire in 2015, it was certainly a legitimate question.” However, she announced that given the community's concern, she “...decided that it is not worth closing at this time.” While some residents can consider this as good news, this latest development highlights an issue that spans almost six years. 

Background

The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region (CFNCR) initially leased the building now known as the 6D Substation to the city for a dollar per year. In February 2008, the city renewed the lease for $180,000 per year for three years, with the option to opt out after a year and a half; MPD planned to vacate the property by late 2009. While this did not happen, rumors circulated again in 2010 and earlier this year, when Mayor Vincent Gray and public safety officials broke ground on the new MPD Sixth District Headquarters and Youth Investigations Division in February. 

While high rent was one reason for closing the substation, Commander Contee discussed another in his testimony during a December 22, 2008 public hearing. “We understand the concern that the closure of the substation may result in a loss of police presence in the areas serviced by the Sixth District Substation,” he said, “but this action will actually place more police officers on the street, which is one of the primary motivating factors behind the decision.” While the substation provides administrative services for residents and a roll call location for officers, it does not “...add patrol presence to the community.” 

However, residents argued that the substation's location is easily accessible, which helps strengthen relationships between the police and residents, decrease response time, and deter crime. Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander agreed with her constituents, saying “We know that the crimes have been reduced with the presence of the substation. I would hate to remove the substation just for a test to say, 'Okay, all the crime has increased greatly since the loss of our substation.'”

Merritt Middle School Build-out

Closed since the 2008 wave of school closures, Merritt Middle School will be converted into an 80,000-square-foot office building with a gymnasium, community room, and on-site parking. The almost 40-year-old building will also receive modifications including energy and water-efficient mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. The project will be separated into two phases, with the first, the Youth Investigation Division, to be completed by the end of the year, and the second, the Sixth District Headquarters, to be finished by next summer.

At the groundbreaking event, Brian Hanlon, director of the Department of General Services, stated, “This is an exciting project for DGS in that we will be working to transform an aging structure into a modern, sustainable building that will directly benefit Ward 7 residents and the police officers who serve and protect residents and visitors in the community.” However, many residents, like David Kirkpatrick, Hillcrest Civic Association's Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness chairman, disagree. “I was a police officer; I know the area,” he said. “In rush hour traffic, it would take 20 minutes to travel from the Merritt School to emergencies. That's unacceptable.” 

Communication Issues

Chief Lanier's announcement was welcomed news for ANC 7B03 Commissioner Gary Butler, whose single-member district includes the 6D Substation. However, he believes that the lack of information regarding the potential closure showed communication issues between MPD and Ward 7. “The community was very confused,” he said. “I raised the question back in 2013 because I heard some officers talking about it.” However, he said that when residents brought up the closure during community and ANC meetings, officers skirted around the issue. “Usually, when it comes to communication between Ward 7 and the city, the information comes to us late or inaccurate,” he said. “It seems like we're fighting to get basic information.”

What's Next

While Chief Lanier's announcement is a note of good news for residents, it does not mean that the conversation is done. Later in the post, she states that she met with DGS to discuss options for a multi-year lease or finding another suitable facility, as the current substation needs repairs. However, with the issue arising every time the lease must be renewed, residents like Kirkpatrick want a more concrete result. “I understand what she's saying, but we want this to be a done deal,” he said. “We don't want to wake up on January 1, 2016 and not have a substation.”