MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Here in the nation's capital two weekends ago, seven people were killed in a nine-hour period. All were in or around one small neighborhood known as Trinidad. This is a city where the overall number of homicides has dropped. The shootings in the Trinidad area prompted the Washington, D.C. Police Department to set up roadside checkpoints around Trinidad last weekend. In a moment we'll hear from D.C.'s police chief, Cathy Lanier, but first we decided to ask a few Trinidad residents what they thought of the checkpoints.
Ms. NORAH HUNTLEY(ph): Well, I feel bad because I know the boys are going to run back and hide from them if they see them anywhere around. So I know I'm safe (unintelligible) when they disappear and they be going on, and that's when they'll come back in here and...
Mr. STEVEN JOHNSON(ph): That's violating your constitutional on how they ask you where you're going, your phone number and if you know anybody that live around here for you to come around here. Basically I don't agree on the checkpoint because of the way how they're presenting it and going about it.
Mr. WARREN PEW(ph): Well, man, I'm saying now - I just get off work, right? I come home expecting I'm going to come my normal way. I got to ride all way out of my way; ain't nobody paying me for my gas. Every time I leave in my car, I got to be checked and go out of my neighborhood. Who that helping? It's not helping me.
Mr. JIM JONES(ph): As long as they're not harassing nobody, I think it's justifiable.
NORRIS: We heard there from Trinidad residents Norah Huntley, Steven Johnson, Warren Pew, and Jim Jones. Washington, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier says the checkpoints in Trinidad are necessary, and she says they're not unusual.
Chief CATHY LANIER (Metropolitan Police Department): What is unusual about this is the reason that we had to do this, and that is specifically just a huge spike in violent crime in just one place in the entire city.
NORRIS: Why will the checkpoint make a difference?
Chief LANIER: Well, what we found is - we did a lot of analysis of what's driving the homicides. Folks from other neighborhoods are coming in in cars, typically stolen cars, and then driving through the neighborhood and shooting, and then driving out. And in an eight-week period we had 14 cases where shootings in this neighborhood involved cars driving, gun battles in some cases, and citywide a total of 33 cases where the perpetrators in a stolen car goes into an area, does the shooting and leaves. So we want to try and take that tool away from the criminal.
NORRIS: But what's the point of a checkpoint if you're only stopping motorists, if people can still walk in use just a different route to get into the neighborhood?
Chief LANIER: Well, first and foremost, it's a lot more risky for someone to carry out a homicide if they're on foot. They have to get back out of the neighborhood. Secondly, we have a significant police presence in the neighborhood and a lot of other things that we're looking at. So we kind of know who belongs in the neighborhood and who doesn't.
NORRIS: Now, people are allowed to enter the neighborhood if they're visiting for a legitimate purpose. What is that mean?
Chief LANIER: Well, we're saying if you live in the neighborhood, you're coming to visit, you're coming to pick up a child from day care, you're going to a community event, all's you have to do when you stop at the check point is tell us where you're going and what you're going to be doing and that you have a legitimate purpose, and we let you through. You know, I was out from one of the check points yesterday and out of the 50 motorists that came through, 45 of them took extra time to thank the officers and thank us for being there.
NORRIS: Now you know that the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, they say that when they were actually out there observing one of your check points, they say 90 percent of the cars were turned away.
Chief LANIER: Well, since we documented every single car and who was and was not admitted, I mean, I'd have to dispute their statistics. And our statistics say that we turned away, I think, it was 26 out of 50. And we had a lot of people coming through that particular day, that was the first check point, there was cameras everywhere. And we have some people that came to the check point to see whether we would let them in or not. So we think some of those folks that came through were testing to see what would happen if they didn't give us the information. I think they there was a fear we would arrest folks and things like that. We don't arrest you if you don't want to tell us where you're going, but we're not going to let you in.
NORRIS: So now assuming that your officer stops someone who's actually planning to hurt someone, how would they actually know, that particularly that person was able to produce government-issued ID? How would they know that they lied about their intent?
Chief LANIER: Well, it's not a matter of producing government-issued ID. First of all, if you're driving a car, you have to produce a driver's license. So if you're telling me that you live in the area or you're going to visit someone in the area, we've got a pretty good intelligence base of, you know, who the rival crews are that are involved in these shootings. This is, you know, designed to be a deterrent. I think the likelihood of one of the rival gang members pulling up into our check point showing an ID and saying, yeah, I'd like to come in is pretty low, and that's what we want.
NORRIS: Chief Lanier, some of the residents in the area really don't like this. There have been chants that this is Trinidad, not Baghdad, and people who live in the neighborhood feel that they're in lock down in some way. Do you worry that you're alienating the same residents that you're going to need if you want to try to reduce crime in the area?
Chief LANIER: Well, I tell you, I'm in that area every day. I live just a couple of blocks away from there. I was in the area again yesterday. We have a listserv where citizens that live in the area post on our listserv, and email after email after email has come in from people that live in Trinidad that come up to me when I'm out there, that come to the check points to thank the officers, who say, hey, this is what we need. We're glad you're here. I had an elderly gentleman on his porch in Trinidad yesterday, sitting on his front porch eating his dinner. And when I spoke with him, he said, you know, don't have air conditioning, so it's so much easier for me to sit outside - it's 100 degrees here in Washington - and have my dinner. But I wouldn't be sitting here if you folks weren't here.
NORRIS: Chief Lanier, thank you so much for talking to us. All the best to you.
Chief LANIER: All right. Thank you very much.
NORRIS: That was Washington, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier. You can see a slide show of the Trinidad neighborhood with more reactions to the check points. That's at our Web site: npr.org.