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Opinion: It’s Not Spring Break!

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Opinion: It’s Not Spring Break!

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A police officer makes a pencil rubbing from the memorial wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial May 15, 2009.

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Lanier Warns Visiting Officers Against Rowdy, Illegal Behavior

As thousands of law enforcement officers descend on Washington to observe National Police Week, DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier is telling everyone to be on their best behavior. News4 Tom Sherwood has more on some of the complaints against visiting police.
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The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in downtown Washington has matured as a solemn, respectful place, with leafy shade trees softening the marble and bronze walkways.

Now if only a handful of this week’s visiting police officers could do a bit of maturing themselves.

Tens of thousands of officers and their family members and organizations have been in town for National Police Week. They attend memorial services, renew old friendships and gather together to socialize.

Unfortunately, some of them also park brazenly wherever they want, turn on their sirens to burn through red lights and, apparently, drink openly on some city streets -- all illegal activities.

“It’s a double standard,” said one passerby as she observed a line of out-of-town cruisers and motorcycles, each one parked illegally on 12th Street NW.

Mayor Vincent Gray told News4, “We would hope that there would be no public drinking. … These are law-enforcement officials.”

The good news is that National Police Week is a lot calmer than it used to be, when many officers treated it like a blue spring break. It was so bad in 2007 that then-newly appointed Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier had her officers passing out leaflets warning that misbehaving officers would be treated the same as any citizen.

Now Lanier sends an annual letter to law enforcement agencies all around the country.

In this year’s letter, Lanier urged that any visiting officers “consider the role they play in upholding the high honor that our profession deserves by acting with dignity and respect during their stay.”

She wrote that the “unacceptable behavior of some participants … can have negative consequences on our city and reflects poorly on the policing profession as a whole.” In bold-face sentences, this letter specifically notes that blocked city streets and alleys, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness would draw enforcement.

“If you see someone acting inappropriately,” she wrote, “please remind him or her of their duty to uphold the highest standards.”

Again, apparently only a handful of officers feel the need to act out. They should take a closer look at the memorial to remember why they’re here.

• Another shoe drops.

There’s enough political scandal, and hints of scandal, in the District that the Notebook frequently jokes that we’re waiting on a centipede’s worth of shoes to drop.

The latest came last week when Danita Doleman, a nonprofit president, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return.

Turns out she was caught up in former Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas Jr.’s scheme to steal more than $350,000 from city youth programs. (This week’s special election to replace Thomas -- who soon will be on the way to prison -- came too late for the Notebook’s deadline.)

Doleman, who faces six months in prison and a $5,000 fine, is cooperating with authorities, according to U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. No sentencing date has been set.

Doleman was the head of a group called Youth Technology Institute. Her organization helped funnel $100,000 to Thomas so he could put on a January 2009 inaugural ball.

Two leaders of another nonprofit also have pleaded guilty in the case.

The latest guilty plea “is one more step in our efforts to hold accountable those who collaborated with Harry Thomas Jr. to divert tax dollars to his own pockets and his pet projects,” Machen said in a statement.

People who believe in good, honest government will never tire of the sound of soiled shoes dropping. Bring on the rest of them.

• Let there be light.

It was nice that Monday was a dark, overcast day.

Mayor Vincent Gray joined other city officials in a Mount Pleasant alley to herald the completion of a program to install about 1,300 light-emitting diode lights in hundreds of alleys across the city.

The million-dollar program uses LED bulbs that last up to 15 years instead of the six months to a year of regular bulbs.

A worker in the alley of the 1700 block of Hobart Street NW used a cherry picker lift to install the last light. Mayor Gray then dramatically counted down and flipped a switch, and … nothing.

For a second or two everyone looked embarrassed until the light suddenly began to glow. There were relieved smiles all around.

Council members Jim Graham (Ward 1) and Mary Cheh (Ward 3) said the new LED lights cost less, last longer and are better for the environment than traditional lights. A few residents wandering into the alley -- who we had expected to complain about all the officials blocking it for the ceremony -- said they welcomed the lights.

We’ll drop by in a few days to see how they look at night.

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