Standoff in Patterson Park

June 15, 1993

Patterson Park is no stranger to skirmishes. It contained some of the fortifications that helped repel the British in the Battle of North Point in 1814. During the Civil War it was a military camp for Union soldiers.

But even Patterson Park has seldom seen the kind of standoffs that are now being staged at its street corners. Twice a week after sunset, groups of residents and their dogs sweep through a 12-square-block area, shooing away prostitutes who are conducting business from the curbs.

On a recent night, the patrol consisted of 16 dogs and their owners, who carried a video camera and a portable phone to call police. "It was a matter of who could own our streets," one activist said of the cleanup operation.

This kind of civic patrolling is nothing new. Years ago, residents of Logan Circle in downtown Washington D.C. fought protracted battles with prostitutes who were hampering the Victorian neighborhood's improvement efforts. Residents of many other restoration neighborhoods have had similar battles against prostitution or drug activity.

Dog patrols and other forms of cellular vigilantism have been made increasingly necessary in recent times because police often assign low priority to neighborhood nuisances. It often seems that only such systematic efforts by residents as repeated calls, video tapes and compilation of suspect license tag numbers will produce any response from the police.

Even when it materializes, such a response is often so tardy or lackluster that residents find it hard not to get dispirited. Some neighborhoods that afford it have resorted to hiring off-duty police officers as private security guards. Others have organized volunteer crime-fighting groups like Citizens on Patrol.

The Patterson Park area residents deserve praise for their efforts to rid their streets of lawlessness. Theirs is a grand park with such features as the pagoda and a duck pond. The residents cannot do it alone, however. The police must make sweeps that make it clear to prostitutes and drug pushers that they are not welcome.

If Patterson Park's dog patrol cannot get help from police, what hope is there for those who have less teeth?

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